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Attorney Gen. Eric Holder has ordered the Justice Department to open an investigation into whether any laws were broken when the Internal Revenue Service singled out some conservative groups for extra scrutiny, he told reporters Tuesday.
Echoing comments made Monday by President Obama, Holder also said that even if no laws were broken it was "outrageous" for the IRS to focus on groups who identified themselves as "patriots" or "tea party" supporters when they applied for tax-exempt status.
The IRS says that most of the activities focusing on the conservative groups originated in the agency's office in Cincinnati, Ohio, where the review of tax-exempt requests was centralized. But a report by CNN Tuesday says it has been given letters that show offices in other areas were involved, as well.
"The American Center for Law and Justice, a legal group representing numerous conservative organizations, provided CNN with four such letters: one each from IRS offices in Washington; Cincinnati; El Monte, California, and Laguna Niguel, California," CNN reports.
As we reported earlier today, the acting head of the IRS, Steven Miller, told a congressional panel in July of 2012 that tax-exempt applications that raise red lags are "referred to specialists in Cincinnati and elsewhere that will take a look to justify it and see whether or not the organization qualifies as a public charity."
The IRS has been under fire since Friday, when a top official apologized to the groups that were singled out for a more exacting review in 2012. At the time, Lois Lerner, who heads the division overseeing tax-exempt groups, said that the scrutiny was partly a result of a surge in applications.
Update at 8:40 p.m. ET: Obama Says Findings 'Intolerable And Inexcusable':
President Obama, in a statement released Tuesday evening, said he'd had time to review the inspector general's report and found the findings "intolerable and inexcusable.
"The federal government must conduct itself in a way that's worthy of the public's trust, and that's especially true for the IRS. The IRS must apply the law in a fair and impartial way, and its employees must act with utmost integrity. This report shows that some of its employees failed that test," he said.
Obama said in the statement that he had instructed the Treasury Secretary Jack Lew "to hold those responsible for these failures accountable, and to make sure that each of the Inspector General's recommendations are implemented quickly, so that such conduct never happens again."
Update at 6:45 p.m. ET: IRS Official: Low-Level Employees Reversed Policy:
According to the inspector general's report Lois Lerner, the head of the IRS tax-exempt unit, said when she discovered that certain political groups were being targeted in 2011, she immediately directed that the criteria be changed.
Reuters, citing the report and Lerner said that low-level employees "without executive approval" changed the criteria again to focus on policy positions, rather than tax laws, because they thought the new criteria was too broad.
Update at 6:20 p.m. ET: 'Ineffective Management' Allowed Conservative Groups To Be Targeted:
Ineffective management caused by lax managers allowed conservative groups to be targeted by IRS officials in a practice that went on for more than 18 months, The Associated Press reports, citing the Treasury inspector general for tax administration's report.
"The report said that when asked by investigators, IRS supervisors said the criteria they used to decide which groups they examined were not influenced by people or organizations outside the IRS," the AP said.
Update at 5:30 p.m. ET: IG's Report Finds IRS 'Deliberately Targeted' Groups:
CNN reports that it has obtained a copy of the Inspector General's report, which says the IRS "deliberately targeted some conservative groups applying for federal tax exempt status."
NPR's other coverage of this developing story includes: