IRS Scandal Fast Facts

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Here’s some background information about the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) scandal involving the targeting of certain groups. In May 2013, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration released a report indicating the targeting involved delaying the processing of applications by certain conservative groups and requesting information from them that was later deemed unnecessary.

The Justice Department was investigating circumstances surrounding the disappearance of IRS emails that Republicans believed could shed light on the possible targeting of conservative and other political groups by the agency.

The Justice Department closed its two-year investigation in October 2015. No charges were brought against former IRS official Lois Lerner or anyone else at the agency.

Other Facts

The investigation into the email disappearance, which the IRS said was due to a crash of Lerner’s hard drive, was part of a wider criminal probe of whether any IRS employees broke the law in unfairly singling out specific political groups for extra scrutiny.

Two hundred ninety-six applications by groups seeking tax-exempt status were flagged for further review. About 75 groups had names with “Tea Party” or “patriot” in them.


Early 2010 - According to the May 2013 Inspector General report, “Inappropriate Criteria Were Used to Identify Tax-Exempt Applications for Review,” the inappropriate targeting of mainly conservative groups begins. This targeting involves delaying the processing of their applications and requesting information deemed unnecessary.

May 2010 - According to the report, “EO (Exempt Organizations) function officials stated that, in May 2010, the Determinations Unit began developing a spreadsheet that would become known as the “Be On the Look Out” listing (hereafter referred to as the BOLO listing) “which included the emerging issue of Tea Party applications.”

July 2010 - The Determinations Unit asks its specialists to BOLO for Tea Party applications.

2010-2012 - According to the report, action is taken to change the criteria used “for identifying potential political cases” involving groups seeking tax-exempt status approximately five times over a two-year period.

May 2012 - After the IRS is first notified of the practice, the use of some BOLO lists involving conservative labels is stopped.

November 9, 2012 - IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman leaves office at the end of his term, and Steven Miller, the deputy commissioner, takes his place.

May 10, 2013 - Miller helps engineer an apology by Lerner, the director of the Exempt Organizations Division since January 2006, through a planted question at an American Bar Association meeting.

– The IRS holds a conference call with reporters where they admit they’ve made “mistakes” in the last few years while trying to process requests from groups seeking tax-exempt status.

May 14, 2013 - The report by the Treasury Inspector General of the Tax Administration is released and finds that the IRS “used inappropriate criteria that identified for review Tea Party and other organizations applying for tax-exempt status based upon their names or policy positions instead of indications of potential political campaign intervention.”

May 15, 2013 - Miller is forced to resign by Treasury Secretary Jack Lew after it comes to light that he knew about the targeting. It is announced by President Barack Obama later that day.

May 16, 2013 - Obama chooses a new acting commissioner, Daniel Werfel, who had been the controller of the White House’s Office of Management and Budget.

May 22, 2013 - Lerner invokes her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination after she denies any wrongdoing in a brief statement to the House Oversight Committee. It is later determined she waived these rights.

– Shulman denies he knew about the targeting, and when he found out about some of it, he made steps to have it reviewed.

– Miller claims the targeting happened because of staffers being overworked and not understanding unclear regulations rather than because of political motivations.

May 23, 2013 - After Lerner refuses to resign, she is placed on administrative leave, according to Congressional sources in both parties.

June 12, 2013 - Werfel stops the use of all BOLO lists by the tax-exemption unit after learning that some of them were still in use.

June 24, 2013 - Democratic Congressman Sander Levin of Michigan charges that liberal groups were targeted by the IRS as well.

September 23, 2013 - Lerner retires.

December 20, 2013 - John Koskinen is appointed to the IRS commissioner position.

March 5, 2014 - Lerner refuses to testify before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

March 26, 2014 - Koskinen testifies before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee about how the IRS is going to try and restore public trust when it comes to exempt organizations.

April 9, 2014 - The House Committee on Ways and Means refer Lerner to the DOJ for possible criminal charges.

April 10, 2014 - The Republican-led House Oversight Committee votes 21-12 to charge Lerner with contempt of Congress.

May 7, 2014 - Lerner is held in contempt of Congress by the House.

June 13, 2014 - IRS informs congress that it is unable to recover Lerner’s emails from January 2009 to April 2011 because of a computer crash. The emails were subpoenaed by the House Oversight Committee Chairman. They have subsequently been able to recover 24,000 of the emails.

June 23-24, 2014 - The House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform hold two hearings: “IRS Obstruction: Lois Lerner’s Missing E-mails.”

December 23, 2014 - The sixth report from the House Oversight Committee says that the IRS “systematically targeted” conservative groups, and places blame on Lerner and seven other IRS officials. According to the report, “The fact-finding is not yet complete.” Another 30,000 emails to and from Lerner have been recently recovered which will also be reviewed.

March 31, 2015 - The US Attorney’s Office sends a letter to House Speaker John Boehner notifying him that it won’t bring contempt of Congress charges against Lerner.

August 5, 2015 - The Senate Finance Committee concludes its investigation and issues its report. The findings indicate the division of the IRS that handles tax exempt organizations was mismanaged and unprepared for the surge in applications from new nonprofits affiliated with the Tea Party movement. According to the committee, the delays in processing the applications from conservative groups were due to poor communication and layers of bureaucracy.

October 23, 2015 - The Justice Department notifies members of Congress that it is closing its two-year investigation into whether the IRS improperly targeted the Tea Party and other conservative groups. Assistant Attorney General Peter Kadzik writes in the letter to Congress that the probe found “substantial evidence of mismanagement, poor judgment and institutional inertia leading to the belief by many tax-exempt applicants that the IRS targeted them based on their political viewpoints. But poor management is not a crime.”

October 27, 2015 - A group of House Republicans move to impeach Koskinen, introducing a resolution calling for his ouster.

June 15, 2016 - The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee votes 23-15 to censure Koskinen as a result of the IRS targeting scandal, calling for his removal from office and the forfeiture of his government pension and other federal benefits for which he is eligible.

September 28, 2017 - The Treasury Inspector General of Tax Administration issues a new report that finds liberal-leaning groups may have also been subjected to extra scrutiny when they sought tax-exempt status.

October 26, 2017 - The Justice Department announces that it has settled multiple lawsuits over the IRS targeting scandal. In a statement, Attorney General Jeff Sessions says it was “clear” that the IRS was “using inappropriate criteria to screen applications” for tax-exempt status under the Obama administration from Tea Party or conservative groups.