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IRS e-mails show Cincinnati official fuming over Lois Lerner comments

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A top manager from the Internal Revenue Service’s  Cincinnati office was “furious” last May over allegations from Lois Lerner that “front-line” employees were responsible for the agency’s inappropriate actions toward conservative groups, according to e-mails from a former top official with the division.

Lerner, who headed the exempt-organizations office in Washington, D.C., blamed rank-and-file workers for the agency’s behavior during a legal conference in which she apologized on behalf of the IRS. She said actions were misguided efforts by workers to deal with a flood of applications from tax-exemption applicants during the 2010 and 2012 election cycles.

IRS official Lois Lerner waits to testify at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters). IRS official Lois Lerner waits to testify at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters).

Cynthia Thomas, a former manager with the IRS’s exempt-organizations office in Cincinnati, fired off an e-mail to Lerner after the conference, complaining that the agency had blamed rank-and-file employees for its actions.

Thomas said Joseph Grant, who was Lerener’s boss, had visited the Cincinnati office a year earlier to assure employees that they would not be blamed for the agency’s mistakes. “Based on the [news] articles, Cincinnati wasn’t publicly ‘thrown under the bus” instead was hit by a convoy of mack trucks,” she said.

Thomas’s e-mail suggests high-ranking officials knew about the problems long before Lerner apologized for the activities and well in advance of a May 2013 inspector general’s report that detailed them.

“How am I supposed to keep the low-level workers motivated when the public believes they are nothing more than low-level and now will have no respect for how they are working cases?” Thomas asked Lerner. “The attitude/morale is the lowest it has ever been.”

Lerner resigned from the IRS in September in a move that Democrats described as proof that the administration has held high-ranking officials responsible for the mistakes. Grant retired from shortly after the release of the inspector general’s report.

Republicans from the House Ways and Means Committee released Thomas’s e-mail this week. In a statement on Tuesday, Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.), the ranking member of the panel, accused GOP lawmakers of trying to reignite a controversy, saying they were “scraping the bottom of the barrel with this e-mail about internal unhappiness at the IRS.”

“The fact is that Lois Lerner was rightfully held responsible for gross mismanagement of the IRS tax-exempt division,” Levin said. “There has been no evidence whatsoever to suggest any political motivation or outside involvement.”

Lerner’s attorney, William Taylor, declined to comment Wednesday on the email release.

Among the other IRS officials involved in personnel moves after the controversy erupted were former acting IRS commissioner Steven Miller, who resigned in May, and Holly Paz, another former official from the D.C. exempt-organizations office who was replaced in June.

Thomas was promoted to a position in Washington, according to an aide from the Ways and Means Committee.

Follow Josh Hicks on TwitterFacebook or Google+. Connect by e-mail at  josh.hicks@washpost.comVisit The Federal Eye, The Fed Page and Post Politics for more federal news. E-mail federalworker@washpost.com 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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