IRS Chief Counsel's Role in Tea Party Targeting Under Scrutiny
The ongoing scandal involving Internal Revenue Service targeting of Tea Party groups seeking tax-exempt status took a step closer to the White House last week when testimony from retiring IRS tax law specialist Carter Hull before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee pointed investigators directly to the agency's Office of Chief Counsel.
Though Hull did not specifically name IRS Chief Counsel William J. Wilkins as the person who ordered him to send Tea Party group applications to his office "for further review," Hull's testimony brought the Obama political appointee to the forefront in the ever expanding scandal.
On July 18, Hull testified that in March 2011 Judy Kindell, a senior technical advisor to Lois Lerner, then the head of the IRS tax exempt division, "told me to forward my recommendations [concerning the approval of Tea Party group applications for tax exempt status] to the Office of Chief Counsel for their review."
Hull was asked if Ms. Kindell agreed with his earlier recommendations that the IRS had sufficient information at that time to make a determination on the Tea Party groups applications for tax-exempt status.
"She did not say whether she agreed or not. She said it should go to chief counsel," Hull told the committee.
On Tuesday the connection between Wilkins and the White House was strengthened when several media outlets reported that Wilkins met with the President at the White House on April 23, 2012, just two days before the IRS issued a revised set of BOLO ("Be on the lookout") instructions to IRS agents reviewing tax-exempt applications that appear to target Tea Party groups for more stringent review standards.
Also on Tuesday, True the Vote, a Tea Party group that focuses on preventing voter fraud and was one of the groups subjected to IRS targeting, announced that it is suing Mr. Wilkins, adding him to the list of defendants in the lawsuit it filed against the IRS in May of this year.
Wilkins, a graduate of Yale University and Harvard Law School, has been a partner with Wilmer, Cutler, Pickering, Hale, and Door (also known as WilmerHale), the prestigious Washington, D.C. law firm, since 1988. According to Federal Election Commission records, Mr. Wilkins has donated generously to political candidates over the years, most of them affiliated with the Democratic Party. In 2008 he represented Reverend Jeremiah Wright's Chicago church, the one which President Obama attended for twenty years, on a pro bono basis before the IRS. President Obama named him Chief Counsel at the IRS in April, 2009.