The IRS scandal around targeting tax-status applications for Tea Party groups is centered around the actions of the Cincinnati branch office. So what's local news saying? Here's a report from the local Fox 19 station.
What about those local employees? Remember, [outgoing acting IRS director] Steven Miller claims that the targeting of conservative groups happened at the hands of low level Cincinnati employees who had gone "rogue" and were "off the reservation" and have already been "disciplined."
Have any of these four IRS agents, Mitchell Steele, Carly Young, Joseph Herr or Stephen Seok been disciplined? We don't know. But each one of these IRS employees could possibly face federal charges according to Speaker of the House John Boehner.
Boehner spoke to reporters Thursday stating that federal law on this issue is clear.
"Section 7214 of the title 26 of the U.S. code states very clearly, 'any officer or employee of the united states acting in connection with any revenue law of the united states who is guilty of extortion or willful oppression under the color of law shall be dismissed from office and if convicted be fined up to 10,000 dollars and spend five years in jail'. said Speaker Boehner.
A source tells Fox 19 that these agents say they were only doing what they were told. If they face 5 years in prison, how long might it be before they say who was reportedly giving them orders?
As it turns out, a fifth employee has been added to the list and all will be interviewed in a closed-door meeting of the Oversight Committee in D.C.
Note that the word coming out of Cincinnati is directly at odds with what came out of yesterday's IRS hearings, where the Washington players continued to blame locals. From Politico:
The hearing put a harsh spotlight on a plot twist that was already uncovered in the inspector general report: The Cincinnati crew had to be told to change their screening terms not once, but twice.
In January 2012, the report found, the Cincinnati employees changed their search terms again — without telling management — after Lerner reined them in. This time, the search terms weren't as specific as "tea party" and "9/12," but they still focused on political positions like "limiting/expanding government" and "social economic reform/movement."
Once again, top IRS officials had to step in and broaden the screening terms — and this time, the employees got a memo saying any other changes had better be approved by IRS management.
[Republican Michigan Rep. Sander] Levin used much of his questioning time to emphasize that lower level IRS employees actually went out of their way to continue targeting conservative groups — even after their superiors told them their searches were unacceptable.
"[Lerner] ordered they be changed, is that correct?" Levin asked Miller, noting that the inspector general report says the head director of exempt organizations told them to scratch the words like "tea party" and "Patriot" from their searches as soon as she learned they were being used in July 2011.
Miller responded yes.
"This change was again made without executive approval. Is that correct?" Levin continued. Miller again answered yes.
The inspector general report says the specialists reinstated, and even expanded, the politically sensitive criteria to target conservative groups in January 2012 without approval from their bosses because "they believed the July 2011 criteria were too broad."
With the threat of jail time hanging over their heads, it's likely the Cinncinnati people will either cough up names or be forced to admit that they were indeed freelancing. Neither outcome changes the fact that the IRS was abusing its power, though if it was a local operation, that obviously limits the political damage for the Obama administration.