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Senate panel hits auditor but clears IRS of bias in targeting scandal

A Senate investigative panel on Friday confirmed that the Internal Revenue Service used inappropriate methods to scrutinize tax-exempt groups but said it found “no evidence of IRS political bias” in the agency’s actions.

In its 228-page report, the Democrat-led Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations also criticized the IRS’s independent watchdog for allegedly failing to make clear that the agency targeted more than just conservative groups.

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration released an audit last year that said the IRS pulled aside groups for extra scrutiny based on their names and policy positions, but the report only cited search terms associated with right-leaning groups, such as “Tea Party,” “9/12” and “Patriot.”

The Senate report said TIGTA’s audit was “interpreted to mean conservative groups were handled differently and less favorably than liberal groups.” It noted that the IRS also used search terms such as “Progressive,” “ACORN” and “Occupy,” which are largely associated with left-leaning organizations.

The panel concluded that TIGTA produced “distorted audit results that continue to be misrepresented.” It recommended that the watchdog agency amend its report to clarify that left-leaning groups were treated improperly and that the review found “no evidence of political bias.”

Republicans offered dissenting conclusions in the Senate report, determining that the TIGTA audit was “accurate and proper” and saying that 83 percent of the targeted groups were right-leaning. “Simply stated, the IRS treated these conservative and Tea Party groups differently from other non-conservative groups,” the GOP members said.

Inspector General Russell George, who heads TIGTA, said Friday that he is reviewing the Senate report and that his office’s audit of the IRS actions is ongoing.

“Facts are still coming to light,” George said in a statement. “I firmly stand behind the audit report that we issued last year, showing the inappropriate treatment of applicants for 501 (c)(4) status, for which the IRS apologized.  It is important to remember that the IRS accepted all of the recommendations contained in our audit report.”

Below is the full Senate report. Click this link if the document does not appear on your screen.