The plot thickens.

The Associated Press
is reporting that senior officials of the IRS knew back in June of 2011 that the agency was targeting groups with “Tea Party,” “Patriot,” and “9/12 Project” in their names. At that point, Lois Lerner, who oversees the IRS department dealing with tax-exempt status, told the employees to change the criteria for flagging tax-exempt groups “immediately.”

But the criteria weren’t changed until January of 2012:

The Treasury Department’s inspector general for tax administration is expected to release the results of a nearly yearlong investigation in the coming week. The AP obtained part of the draft report, which has been shared with congressional aides.

Among the other revelations, on Aug. 4, 2011, staffers in the IRS’ Rulings and Agreements office “held a meeting with chief counsel so that everyone would have the latest information on the issue.”

On Jan, 25, 2012, the criteria for flagging suspect groups was changed to, “political action type organizations involved in limiting/expanding Government, educating on the Constitution and Bill of Rights, social economic reform/movement,” the report says.

While this was happening, several committees in Congress were writing IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman to express concern because tea party groups were complaining of IRS harassment.

In Shulman’s responses, he did not acknowledge targeting of tea party groups. At a congressional hearing March 22, 2012, Shulman was adamant in his denials.

“There’s absolutely no targeting. This is the kind of back and forth that happens to people” who apply for tax-exempt status, Shulman said at the House Ways and Means subcommittee hearing.

The portion of the draft report reviewed by the AP does not say whether Shulman or anyone else in the Obama administration outside the IRS was informed of the targeting. But it is standard procedure for agency heads to consult with staff before responding to congressional inquiries.

Shulman was appointed by President George W. Bush, a Republican. His 6-year term ended in November. President Barack Obama has yet to nominate a successor. The agency is now run by an acting commissioner, Steven Miller.

It appears that the IRS didn’t cease and desist until it became clear that Congress was getting suspicious. Are they seriously making the argument that they found out about the practice in June of 2011 and then it took seven months to change the criteria after Ms. Lerner ordered the practice halted “immediately”? What were they doing over those seven months while conservatives were being harassed and bullied? And who promulgated the original criteria in the first place?

And what do you make of the timing of this political hot potato? Out of the clear, blue sky Lois Lerner volunteers this dynamite information, dropping it on a lazy Friday afternoon with Benghazi sucking up all the oxygen in the media universe. Not exactly subtle are they?

The administration will go to the ends of the earth to keep Obama from any taint of scandal here. Using the IRS for political purposes is just the sort of thing conservatives have been looking for since Obama took office.

One of the articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon was his use of the IRS to harass and destroy his political enemies.