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IRS Commissioner Contradicts Earlier Testimony, Says Tea Party-Targeting Was Partisan

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WASHINGTON -- The head of the Internal Revenue Service on Tuesday, in his second day of sworn testimony before congressional committees, admitted under questioning that the agency's targeting of tea party groups was a partisan act.

"It absolutely was," said Steven Miller, acting commissioner of the IRS, when asked by Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) if the agency acted in a partisan manner.

Miller had said in his opening statement to the Senate Finance Committee that the targeting was "not an act of partisanship." The question of whether the IRS personnel who targeted tea party groups acted in a partisan way has implications for whether they broke laws such as the Hatch Act, which forbids government employees from engaging in partisan political activity.

HuffPost asked IRS officials about Miller's comment after the hearing, and sent one of them the transcript of Miller's exchange with Burr. The IRS has not yet responded.

Here is a transcript of the exchange between Burr and Miller, where they are discussing "be on the lookout" (BOLO) terms that the IRS was using to target conservative groups. In his reference to a "second listing," Miller is referring to a change in BOLO terms on January 2012. The terms started out in 2011 as focused on "organizations in the Tea Party movement," were changed in June 2011 to a far more vague scope that did not indicate political or ideological orientation, and then were changed back in January 2012 to more specific terms.

Miller's reference to a "second listing" is actually to the third iteration of the BOLO terms. So when Burr refers to the terms "before," it's clear he is talking about the BOLO terms before July 2011, which were specifically focused on the tea party.

BURR: Mr. Miller, let me just ask you. Has this practice stopped?

MILLER: What practice, sir?

BURR: The practice of how they process the consideration of these applications -- keywords "conservative," "tea party," "patriot"?

MILLER: I believe that that did happen. The names stopped when -- last in -- when Lois Lerner first learned of it. The second listing, by the way, if you take a look at that, in the Treasury inspector general's report, is still problematic because it talks about policy positions, but it actually is not particularly partisan in how it talks about policy positions.

BURR: So it was partisan -- it was partisan before, though.

MILLER: Yes, it absolutely was.

UPDATE: 4:52 p.m. -- An IRS official who asked to talk without being identified said later that the terms that IRS officials used were partisan terms, but that the motivation for the behavior was not driven by partisanship.

This raises the question about whether motives need to be known for the targeting to be a partisan act, or does the simple act of using politically loaded terms against one point of view without targeting another point of view constitute a partisan act?

Miller, by insisting that the IRS did not act in a partisan manner, is relying on a definition that assumes motives must be clearly known.

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