Officials with the IRS apologized Friday for targeting groups with "Tea Party" and "Patriots" in their titles for non-profit status audits, but senior agency leaders knew the groups were being flagged as early as 2011, the Associated Press reported.
Lois Lerner, who heads the division for tax-exempt groups, learned of the targets in June 2011 and immediately ordered that the practice be stopped, according to a draft of an inspector general's report obtained by the AP.
At a hearing before Congress in March 2012, then-acting IRS Commissioner, Douglas Shulman, denied that the agency was targeting conservative groups, adding that "this is the kind of back and forth that happens to people."
Shulman was appointed by President George W. Bush and finished his term in November 2012. A new commissioner has not yet been nominated, the AP reported.
According to the draft of the inspector general's report investigating Tea Party groups claims of IRS. harassment, the criteria for rooting out groups suspected of political activity under tax-exempt status was changed in January of 2012 to include "political action type organizations involved in limiting/expanding Government, educating on the Constitution and Bill of Rights, social economic reform/movement."
Other groups targeted for audit included Glenn Beck's "9/12 project."
In an interview with the New York Times, Lerner said there had been no political motivation behind the audits, merely that staff used the names as a shortcut for identifying possible fraud after seeing a jump in the number of new tax-exempt status applications between 2010 and 2012.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Friday that the targets were conducted under a Bush-era appointee and that, in any case, the IRS falls outside of the purview of the executive branch.
Republicans quickly called for further investigation, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell calling for a review of what he called the IRS's "thuggish practices."
Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California echoed the sentiment Sunday on Meet the Press.
"Somebody made the decision that they would give extra scrutiny to this particular group," Feinstein said. "And we need to understand why."