Judge Reggie Walton has ordered the IRS to cough up the names of specific employees of the agency who were responsible for targeting tea party groups.
When the targeting scandal broke in 2013, IRS higher ups tried to deflect responsibility by saying that overzealous employees in a regional office had freelanced the targeting.
This was seen by many as a transparent attempt to make the scandal go away by trying to make it appear that it was not initiated or monitored at high levels of the IRS bureacuracy.
The judge's order may lead to a discovery of what actually happened in the targeting scandal:
“Lay it on the line. Put it out there,” he told attorneys for the IRS, who are continuing to fight some tea party groups’ demands for full disclosure.
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IRS senior executive Lois G. Lerner initially said the problem was rogue employees at an Ohio office who botched the handling. But subsequent investigations revealed that IRS officials at the highest levels of Washington were aware of the delays and extra scrutiny.
Some applications are still awaiting approval, though the IRS as of late last month had agreed to a process for deciding on one of the key outstanding cases.
Still, some tea party groups say they feel they are being treated unfairly.
Carly Gammill, a lawyer at the American Center for Law and Justice, which is representing some of the groups in the lawsuits, told Judge Walton that they are concerned about an email sent by IRS employees during the initial targeting speculating that they would approve applications but would review them later for follow-ups.
“We suspect we will have to approve the majority of the c4 applications,” Holly Paz, a top Lerner aide, said in one 2011 email. “We will also refer these organizations to the Review of operations for follow-up in a later year.”
Judge Walton's ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed by thirty-eight organizations that want to know who was responsible for the IRS targeting of conservative groups. Some have argued that the targeting of these groups for extra scrutiny affected the 2010 midterm elections and the 2012 presidential election.
The targeting scandal was an indication of a highly ideological federal bureaucracy that often works to thwart conservative policies they personally oppose.
IRS agents who may have been involved in targeting conservative leaning groups have so far been able to hide in a bureaucratic labyrinth.