WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration has settled lawsuits with tea party groups that received extra, often burdensome scrutiny when applying for tax-exempt status, ending another chapter in a political scandal that dogged the Obama administration and remains a source of outrage for Republicans.
The IRS is apologizing to the groups as part of the proposed settlement agreements outlined in court filings Wednesday. The groups and the Justice Department are asking a judge to declare it illegal for the tax agency to discriminate based on political views, according to the agreements.
Republicans erupted in 2013 after the IRS apologized for submitting conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status to intensive scrutiny, in part by zeroing in on groups with words like “Tea Party” or “Patriot” in their names. Many had their applications delayed for months and years. Some were asked improper questions about their donors and even their religious practices, an inspector general’s report found.
Hundreds of organizations joined lawsuits, alleging their constitutional rights were violated. Some sought monetary damages, but the settlements reached don’t include a financial penalty, according to the documents.
Much of the agency’s leadership, including top official Lois Lerner, resigned or retired over the scandal. One of the proposed settlement agreements calls senior management “delinquent” in providing control and direction over the process. And it faults Lerner for failing to tell upper-level management of the long delays in processing applications from tea party and other conservative groups.
The Obama Justice Department announced in 2015 that no one at the IRS would be prosecuted in the scandal, saying investigators had found mismanagement but no evidence that it had targeted a political group based on its viewpoints or obstructed justice.
Republicans had hoped the Justice Department under Attorney General Jeff Sessions would reopen its case against Lerner. But officials told members of Congress last month they would not charge Lerner, saying “reopening the criminal investigation would not be appropriate based on the available evidence.”
Still, Sessions condemned the misconduct in a statement Thursday announcing the settlement agreements, which still need a judge’s approval.
“There is no excuse for this conduct,” Sessions said. “Hundreds of organizations were affected by these actions, and they deserve an apology from the IRS.”