The IRS targeting controversy: A timeline

IRS sign with magnifying glass Internal revenue Service tax taxes CBS/iStockphoto

As scrutiny of the Internal Revenue Service intensifies following the revelation of its disproportionate evaluation of conservative groups' applications for 501(c)4 tax-exempt status, IRS officials and the Obama administration find themselves the target of increasingly intense questioning and criticism.

The IRS began targeting conservative groups three years ago, according to a timeline obtained by CBS News; more details are expected when the acting commissioner of the IRS is grilled at a congressional hearing on Friday.

Here's a timeline of the IRS's targeting, who knew what and reaction to the IRS's actions:

Jan. 21, 2010: The Supreme Court ruledthat the government cannot limit corporation or union spending for or against political candidates in this Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case, which President Obama denounced that day. This 5-4 decision lay the foundation for an uptick in 501(c)4 status applications from 1,591 to 3,398 between 2010 and 2012, according to the IRS.

March 1-17, 2010: IRS agents identify the first 10 "Tea Party cases" applications though not all had "tea party" in their name, according to a draft of The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) appendix. IRS' Determinations Unit had asked for a search of "tea party or similar organizations' applications."

October 26, 2010: Determinations Unit personnel emailed concerns about the additional review process for tea party applications to the Technical Unit. This individual follows up in November when response to concern about consistency yields no change.

June 29, 2011: IRS director of exempt organizations Lois Lerner learnsat a meeting that the agency flagged group titles with "tea party," "patriot," or "9/12 Project" for supplementary review. She told those involved to alter this practice "immediately," according to a draft of the report from the TIGTA, who audits the IRS.

Aug. 4, 2011: IRS' Rulings and Agreements staff meets with Chief Counsel "so that everyone would have the latest information on the issue," according to the TIGTA report.

Jan. 25, 2012: IRS changes standard for identifying organizations that require additional scrutiny, now flagging for "political action type organizations involved in limiting/expanding Government, educating on the Constitution and Bill of Rights, social economic reform movement," according to the inspector general's report.

March 22, 2012: IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman testified the agency did not increase difficulty for politically active groups to get tax exempt status at the House Ways and Means Committee. The Ways and Means Oversight subcommittee chairman, Rep. Charles Boustany, R-La., called the hearing after he heard complaints from tea party groups about harassment from the IRS.

May 3, 2012: Then-deputy commissioner Steven Miller was first told about the extra scrutiny for tea party groups; he made no mention of this during a House hearing on July 25.

June 15, 2012: Boustany receives a letter from Miller who writes the agency "took steps to coordinate the handling of the case to ensure consistency."

July 25, 2012: Miller testified to the House Ways and Means Committee without mentioning the additional scrutiny. When Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Texas, asked Miller about harassment complaints from politically active tax-exempt associations, Miller said the IRS "group[ed] those organizations" for "consistency" and "quality." Neither man mentioned the tea party.

November 11, 2012: Shulman steps down as IRS commissioner as his term ends (he was appointed by President George W. Bush in 2008). Miller steps in as acting commissioner.

April 16, 2013: White House counsel's office received item line information from the Inspector General about upcoming reports, including that on the IRS targeting controversy, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said at a May 21, 2013 press conference.

April 24, 2013: White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler learnedthat the IRS targeted 501(c)4 applications with "tea party," "patriot," and "9/12 project." She informed senior White House staff including the Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough, not the president, Carney said at a May 20, 2013 press conference.

May 10, 2013: Lerner admits to and apologizesfor additional review of conservative groups' 501(c)4 status applications, though she said high level employees didn't know about the issue -- the inspector general's report refuted this information. While the IRS asked some to provide a donor list, which is against most IRS policy, others never received tax exempt status. Overall, IRS agents flagged 296 of the 501(c)4 applications, 160 of which were open for more than 1,138 days.

May 10, 2013: White House press secretary Jay Carney said this IRS scrutiny was "of concern" and "inappropriate" when answering reporter questions last Friday. President Obama first publically spoke about the scandal Monday.

May 12, 2013: Several Republican members of Congress condemnedthe IRS targeting on Sunday news shows. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, demanded Mr. Obama speak out against the IRS to demonstrate "that this is totally unacceptable in America" when she appeared on CNN's "State of the Union."

May 13, 2013: Mr. Obama called IRS targeting "outrageous," in a joint press conference with United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron. He said the IRS will be held accountable if reports are true -- a sentiment Carney reiterated in a May 14 press conference.

May 13, 2013: Miller writes a statement in USA TODAY where he said "mistakes were made" in the agency's review process, addingthe "shortcut taken in our processes" demonstrated "a lack of sensitivity." Miller said the IRS was not motivated by politics in setting their criteria for how to flag for additional scrutiny. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell calls IRS action a "blatant and thuggish abuse of power" the next day.

May 14, 2013: Attorney General Eric Holder ordered an Justice Department and FBI investigation into the IRS that'll analyze if the agency broke laws in targeting conservative groups for additional review, he said at a press conference.

May 14, 2013: House Ways and Means Committee chairman Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., and the committee's top Democrat, Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., sent Miller a list of 13 questions for him to answer by May 21, including who knew about the targeting and when, as well as who was notified about the additional reviews outside of IRS employees. "Despite repeated for cooperation, the agency failed to be completely truthful in its responses to the Committee during its nearly two-year long investigation of this matter, and in testimony before the Committee," the two wrote.

May 14, 2013: A Treasury inspector general report calls IRS standards "inappropriate criteria" for flagging 501(c)4 groups as the agency had for more than three years. The report blamed relaxed leadership for the targeting controversy and includes recommendations for the IRS implement more consistent policies.

May 15, 2013: Holder discussed possible criminal and civil laws that IRS agents may have broken during testimony before the House Judiciary Committee. The attorney general also said the Justice Department investigation would explore IRS offices outside the Cincinnati staff which was the first site of review.

May 15, 2013: Mr. Obama accepted Miller's resignation, effective in June, after the president had a phone call with Treasury Secretary Jack Lew to discuss results of the inspector general's report. Mr. Obama announced Miller's resignation at a short press conference after 6 p.m. where he said IRS actions were "inexcusable."

May 16, 2013: Mr. Obama appoints Daniel Werfel, 42 to be acting commissioner of IRS, effective May 22. Werfel has been the controller of the White House's Office of Management and Budget since 2009. Though Werfel's position will last through the fiscal year, he cannot be the official commissioner without a Senate confirmation. Mr. Obama must appoint him or another person to that position to fill the permanent post.

May 16, 2013: IRS commissioner of the tax exempt and government entities division Joseph Grant announced he would retire June 3, becoming the second top agency official to leave within a week of news of the targeting.

May 17, 2013: Testifying at the House Ways and Means Committee, Miller said"foolish mistakes were made" in determining when to administer extra scrutiny, but that the flagging process was not partisan. At the hearing, Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration J. Russell George also testified about the report which detailed the targeting controversy. George seconded Miller's insistence that the IRS agents weren't motivated by partisanship.

May 17, 2013: On the "Tonight Show," 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney said the responsibility of the government's "breach of trust" in its controversy triad - IRS, Benghazi and the Justice Department's AP phone record seizure - lies with Mr. Obama. Throughout his campaign, Romney warned against "big government," which many Republicans echo as the reason the IRS targeting controversy could occur.

May 18, 2013: Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., used the IRS targeting controversy in the Republican weekly address to highlight how the IRS's red tape is one of the problems in enforcing the Affordable Care Act. Because the IRS is in charge of several Obamacareregulations, Harris warned how its additional scrutiny practices with conservative groups demonstrate "that the IRS needs less power, not more."

May 19, 2013: On the Sunday talk shows, politicians from both parties weighed the need for special counsel, discussed how to prevent future IRS problems and Mr. Obama's ability to lead amid the controversies. McConnell, on "Meet the Press," said the IRS's behavior is the latest example of the administration's "culture of intimidation."

May 21, 2013: Miller, Shulman and George testified for the Senate Finance Committee, the second hearing congressional hearing on the IRS targeting controversy since Lerner first admitted to and apologized for the agency's behavior.

May 22, 2013: Werfel takes over as acting IRS commissioner, sending a memo to IRS employees that it is up to them to "restore that trust and ensure that the IRS remains the exceptional, indispensable organization it has always been." In his first day, Werfel also met with Lew and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont.

May 22, 2013: After an opening statement, Lerner refused to answer questions from the House Oversight Committee. Though the committee's chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., dismissed her from the hearing, he has called on her to appear again because, he said, she waived her Fifth Amendment rights when she testified to say she "did nothing wrong." Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., the committee's top Democrat, in addition to several Republicans, have said Lerner should resign.

May 23, 2013: Werfel placed Lerner on administrative leave when she reportedly refused to resign. The new acting commissioner asked Lerner to resign, but she refused, according to Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa. Ken Corbin, who has worked at the IRS for 27 years, is Lerner's temporary replacement as the agency's director of exempt organizations. Lerner receives her full salary while on administrative leave.

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