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Cincinnati IRS employees say their actions started the targeting efforts

An IRS manager in Cincinnati elevated the first tea party case that prompted the targeting of conservative groups, and another employee from that Ohio office developed the initial search criteria, according to the House oversight committee’s top Democrat.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) on Sunday revealed new details about the IRS controversy that he said should absolve the White House of blame for the issue, providing excerpts of interviews between IRS workers and congressional investigators.

The partial transcripts, which Cummings shared in a memo to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, shed light on a key but redacted portion of the inspector general’s timeline: The first event that prompted the targeting campaign.

Al Behrman/AP - The John Weld Peck Federal Building in Cincinnati houses the main offices for the Internal Revenue Service in the city. Al Behrman/AP – The John Weld Peck Federal Building in Cincinnati houses the main offices for the Internal Revenue Service in the city.

A self-described “conservative Republican” manager from the Cincinnati office told congressional investigators that he sent a tea party case to Washington on Feb. 25, 2010 to help determine whether the group should qualify for tax-exempt status, according to the excerpts.

A timeline from the inspector general’s report listed an event on that same date as the genesis of the targeting initiative, which first focused on groups with names including “tea party,” “patriot” and “9/12,” a term associated with conservative political commentator Glenn Beck.

A screening agent from the Cincinnati office told congressional investigators that he developed the initial search criteria after the conservative manager asked him to identify additional cases, according to Cummings.

“I noticed that there were hundreds of these things,” the agent reportedly said about tea party groups he discovered on the Internet. “So some of the names I used — some of the terms — to find the tea parties. Tea party went by other names.”

According to Cummings’ memo, the conservative IRS manager said no one from Washington ordered him to identify additional tea party cases. “There was no — there was no — no one said to make a search,” the employee said, according to an excerpt.

“Based upon everything I’ve seen, the case is solved,” Cummings said Sunday on CNN. “And if it were me, I would wrap this case up and move on, to be frank with you.”

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the oversight committee, downplayed the information Cummings provided in his memo.

“The testimony excerpts Ranking Member Cummings revealed today did not provide anything enlightening or contradict other witness accounts,” Issa said in a statement. “The only thing Ranking Member Cummings left clear in his comments today is that if it were up to him the investigation would be closed.”

The Republican and Democrat sides of the House oversight committee have both released partial transcripts of the congressional interviews to support their narratives.

Both sides have also declined requests to provide the full transcripts, leaving many questions about missing context and what kind of additional clarity the interviews might provide.

Cummings’ memo does not clear IRS officials in Washington of involvement in the targeting campaign. The Post revealed in a May 13 article that officials from the agency’s top echelons helped apply extra scrutiny to groups with conservative-sounding names.

Last week, Issa provided partial interview transcripts in which a Cincinnati IRS employee said that Washington-based IRS attorney Carter C. Hull had considerable say over which targeted groups should make the cut for tax-exemption.

Issa’s excerpts also showed that a misfired e-mail relating to the targeting effort reached a broad group of agency officials in the capital during the summer of 2010.

For more federal news, visit The Federal Eye, The Fed Page and Post Politics. To connect with Josh Hicks, follow his Twitter feed, friend his Facebook page or e-mail josh.hicks@washpost.comE-mail with news tips and other suggestions.

Josh Hicks covers Maryland politics and government. He previously anchored the Post’s Federal Eye blog, focusing on federal accountability and workforce issues.

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