By MICHAEL FALCONE (@michaelpfalcone)
- RETURN TO SENDER: Although the Internal Revenue Service has said its targeting of conservative groups was limited to its Cincinnati field office, the Washington Post reported overnight that some groups have received letters from IRS officials in Washington and California, suggesting the activity was not limited to Cincinnati. A lawyer representing several of the conservative groups tells ABC’s JONATHAN KARL that two of her clients have received letters from the Washington, DC office. The lawyer, Cleta Mitchell, has provided ABC News with two of the letters, which look to be virtually identical to the letters sent from the Cincinnati office. Ms. Mitchell has redacted the names of her client and the DC IRS agent(s) who sent the letters to protect the interests of her client. However, you can clearly see that both letters have a return address of “WASHINGTON, DC.” As for the various local tea party groups contacted by ABC News yesterday, none reported being contacted by any IRS offices other than Cincinnati. WATCH Jon Karl’s “Good Morning America” report: http://abcn.ws/10UWvaV
- THE FACES OF SCANDAL: When Jennifer Stefano of suburban Philadelphia tried to start a tea party group, the IRS sent her so many questions that she figured it was easier to quit, ABC’s CHRIS GOOD and SHUSHANNAH WALSHE report. “In the documents that were sent to me, if you did not tell the whole truth by not putting all your personal information out there by Facebook, by Twitter, of your personal relationship with candidates and parties … it could be considered perjury and perjury carried jail time,” Stefano, 39, told ABC News. “That was frightening and that’s why I shut it down. I shut my group down.” Stefano is among dozens of tea party organizers who received extra scrutiny from the Internal Revenue Service — 75 in 2012, by the agency’s own admission — as officials sought to investigate the tax-exempt applications of conservative groups. http://abcn.ws/18HKtcx
- WHITE HOUSE WEIGHS IN ON ASSOCIATED PRESS PHONE RECORDS: “Other than press reports, we have no knowledge of any attempt by the Justice Department to seek phone records of the AP,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a statement last night. “We are not involved in decisions made in connection with criminal investigations, as those matters are handled independently by the Justice Department. Any questions about an ongoing criminal investigation should be directed to the Department of Justice.”
ABC’s JEFF ZELENY: The troubles are mounting for the White House — Benghazi, IRS, AP phone records — leading one administration official to ask yesterday: “Is it really still only Monday?” It’s safe to say all three topics are moving into scandal territory, but it’s a mistake to view them together. Of all of the controversies, the IRS seems to be the most troubling because it further erodes trust in government and institutions — from a point that is already distressingly low. At least three Congressional committees are digging in. Even though the president said he didn’t know about the IRS matter until the news broke last week, it happened on his watch. Democrats could have a hard time winning this one. It bolsters the case for Republicans, just in time for the midterm campaign to begin.
ABC’s RICK KLEIN: It comes fast and intense in a second term. And the confluence of events – Benghazi talking points, the IRS scandal, sweeping subpoenas of Associated Press records – leave plenty of reasons to mistrust the government President Obama is leading. Knowing that Congress can’t walk and chew gum very well – it can’t walk all that well without the gum, and this flavor is particularly tasty to the president’s opponents – this is a recipe for stalling and worse for just about anything the White House wants to do. The president’s powers of public persuasion, meanwhile, could ebb in the whiff of scandals. If there’s a White House strategy to turn this all around, we’re not seeing signs of it, not yet.
ABC’s DEVIN DWYER: The talking points coming out of the State Department on Monday were astonishing for their attempted revisionism. Spokeswoman Jen Psaki repeated four times in four minutes that the Obama administration’s early public characterization of the 2012 Benghazi terror attack was dictated by the CIA. “These were CIA points. They were CIA edited. They were CIA finalized,” she said. Nevermind that trove of emails, obtained by ABC News, that shows it was in fact the State Department that sought to edit out the CIA’s references to al Qaeda and to security warnings in Benghazi prior to the attack. “These started and ended as CIA talking points,” Psaki said. Technically, maybe so. But it would be disingenuous to ignore or deny the apparent influence of State during the talking-point sausage-making that occurred in between.
ABC’s SHUSHANNAH WALSHE: The Tea Party groups who say they were unfairly targeted by the IRS showed ABC News questionnaires and documents received from the Internal Revenue Service. They had to answer questions about their donors, views on issues, and one member said she was even asked to show her personal Facebook account, all they say, because of their political views. The agency apologized last week, but these groups don’t feel like they were directly apologized to. All want an investigation, but for Jennifer Stefano who was trying to set up a group called The Loyal Opposition, but finally gave up, she compares this scandal to Watergate: ”It became very frightening, the IRS has the power to target the political opposition of a sitting president.”
WHAT WE’RE WATCHING
INTRODUCING JEFF ZELENY’S ‘THE FINE PRINT’: JIM DEMINT ON THE IMMIGRATION BILL’S PRICE TAG. Former Sen. Jim DeMint (R – S.C.) is standing by the controversial Heritage Foundation study that put a $6.3 trillion price tag on the Senate immigration bill, saying: “There’s no doubt that these numbers are real.” He also says he has no regrets about leaving the Senate to become president of the Heritage Foundation, recalling his recent years in the Senate as similar to “being on a treadmill going nowhere.” “I’m at a place now at Heritage where I can have more impact on public policy than I could as a United States senator,” DeMint told ABC’s JEFF ZELENY. For more of the interview with DeMint, and to hear how this issue has strained his relationship with Sen. Marco Rubio (R – Fl.), check out this episode of “The Fine Print,” a new ABC News/Yahoo! News web series hosted by Zeleny. http://yhoo.it/16wJUmE
HOW THE IRS AND BENGHAZI FUEL THE WASHINGTON TRUST DIVIDE. The IRS’ targeting of conservative groups has nothing to do with the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, but these two political tornadoes collided simultaneously into the White House Friday and continue to swirl around Washington. Both stories are like catnip for conspiracy theorists, writes ABC’s Z. BYRON WOLF. On the Internal Revenue Service, conservative groups and lawmakers have for years complained they were getting harassed by the IRS. Maybe they weren’t imagining things. On Benghazi, conservatives have long alleged that the White House tried in the immediate aftermath to downplay that terrorism led to the consulate attack. Their suspicion is that the White House didn’t want to admit a terrorist attack occurred right before the presidential election. Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Friday it doesn’t really matter whether President Obama knew specifically what the IRS was doing when it targeted conservative groups. Obama, McConnell said, deserves some blame regardless. “They all take their cues from the tone expressed by the president, and he’s made it clear that this administration is perfectly willing to crack down on critics,” McConnell told the National Review. Michael Dimock, director of the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press added that this latest scandal, by politicizing what is supposed to be a nonpartisan government agency, could hurt impressions of the IRS, particularly among the limited government advocates whose interest groups were receiving special scrutiny. “This cuts so close to the concerns of the tea party movement,” he said. “It is the script. This is what they’re worried about. Here is the government trying to use its power to tip the scales.” ANALYSIS: http://abcn.ws/14jt3j4
WEIRDEST IRS QUESTIONS FOR THE TEA PARTY: VIEWS, DONORS, AND ETYMOLOGY. Between 2010 and 2012, the IRS asked tea party groups a whole lot of questions, notes ABC’s CHRIS GOOD. As admitted by the IRS, and as detailed in a forthcoming Inspector General report, the agency targeted conservative organizations seeking tax-exempt status for issue advocacy, a standard practice for political groups that aren’t mainly about elections. The IRS sent long questionnaires to the organizations, and documents obtained by ABC News show that the questions were extensive. The Richmond Tea Party, for instance, was asked 17 detailed questions in 2010, and 12 more, with lots of bulleted sub-questions, in 2012. Other groups were asked about 30 questions in one letter, and most of the letters were similar, with some specific, quirky questions added or subtracted. The Liberty Township Tea Party in Ohio got it worst, as the IRS asked about its relationship with a Cincinnati-area tea-party organizer and with a local group. “It’s just hundreds of hours and plenty of money, and this was not something any American would want to have to deal with,” said Larry Nordvig, executive director of the Richmond Tea Party, who joined the group earlier this year after its IRS saga was over. Here are some of the weirdest and most notable questions and requests that ABC found in roughly half a dozen IRS questionnaires sent to tea party groups from 2010 to 2012: http://abcn.ws/19n6JG0
PRESIDENT OBAMA BLAMES POLITICAL GRIDLOCK ON ‘HYPER-PARTISANSHIP,’ RUSH LIMBAUGH. President Obama blamed part of the political gridlock in Washington, D.C., on “hyper-partisanship” while speaking at a fundraiser attended by Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel in New York City Monday afternoon, saying some Republicans worry too much about the reaction of conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, ABC’s ARLETTE SAENZ reports. “What’s blocking us right now is sort of hyper-partisanship in Washington that, frankly, I was hoping to overcome in 2008. And in the midst of crisis, I think the other party reacted, rather than saying now is the time for us all to join together, decided to take a different path,” Obama said at the Democratic National Committee fundraiser. “My thinking was after we beat them in 2012, well, that might break the fever, and it’s not quite broken yet. “But I am persistent,” he said. “And I am staying at it. And I genuinely believe that there are actually Republicans out there who would like to work with us but they’re fearful of their base and they’re concerned about what Rush Limbaugh might say about them. And, as a consequence, we get the kind of gridlock that makes people cynical about government and inhibits our progress.” The president’s comments came at the first of three fundraisers in New York City Monday. http://abcn.ws/10THVAt
MINNESOTA SENATE VOTES TO ALLOW SAME-SEX MARRIAGE. After a day of passionate yet respectful speeches on both sides of the issue, the Minnesota State Senate voted 37-30 yesterday to legalize same-sex marriage today, overcoming the last hurdle before the bill moves on to Gov. Mark Dayton, who supports giving same-sex couples the freedom to marry, notes ABC’s SARAH PARNASS. Minnesota would join 11 other states and the District of Columbia in legalizing same-sex marriage, meaning that about 18 percent of the country’s population has the option to marry regardless of gender. http://abcn.ws/13tPoeV
ON THE AGENDA: President Obama spends the day behind closed doors at the White House with no public events scheduled, according to ABC’s MARY BRUCE. This afternoon, Obama meets privately with Defense Secretary Hagel.
WHAT WE’RE READING
“HOW MUCH BIG INSURANCE PAID A SMALL-BUSINESS GROUP TO FIGHT A PREMIUM TAX,” by the National Journal’s Chris Frates. “The nation’s leading health insurance industry group gave $850,000 to a top small-business trade association as part of a campaign to repeal a key provision of President Obama’s health care law, National Journal Daily has learned. America’s Health Insurance Plans cut the six-figure check to the National Federation of Independent Business as part of a aimed at blocking a tax on health care premiums that goes into effect next year and will cost insurers roughly $100 billion over the next decade. The back-channel spending shows how insurers were able to fund a key—and much more politically popular—ally in their fight against the premium tax. After all, helping small businesses is a political no-brainer while aiding big insurers is a political nonstarter. NFIB officials say they are fighting the tax because it will disproportionately affect small businesses whose owners and employees will end up footing the bill. They expect insurance companies will simply pass along the cost of the new taxes to their customers, which, according to one congressional estimate, could cost a family as much as $400 in 2016. Meanwhile, big corporations that self-fund their insurance plans are exempt from the tax. The look behind the curtain is sure to fuel the already-intense partisan warfare over the Affordable Care Act.” http://bit.ly/10uXT3U
–This morning GOP Reps. STEVE KING, Steve Stockman, Mo Brooks, Lamar Smith and others will hold a press conference on Capitol Hill to speak out against the Senate Gang of Eight’s immigration reform proposal. (h/t ABC’s JOHN PARKINSON)
–STAR PARKER, founder and president of the Center for Urban Renewal and Education (CURE), and a group of prominent religious leaders from the African-American community will hold a news conference at 9:45 a.m. ET today at the National Press Club to speak out on the impact of abortion on the black community. As Kermit Gosnell’s murder trial winds down, Parker and leading black pastors from across the country are demanding Congress hold hearings to investigate what is leading illegal, late-term abortion practices in black communities, and how it can be remedied
IN THE NOTE’S INBOX
–BLOOMBERG IMMIGRATION GROUP TEAMS UP WITH ORGANIZING FOR ACTION AND REPUBLICANS FOR IMMIGRATION REFORM. An announcement from the three groups this morning: “The Partnership for a New American Economy announced today that Organizing for Action and Republicans for Immigration Reform are joining the Partnership as co-sponsors of the upcoming March for Innovation (#iMarch), the largest-ever virtual march on Washington in support of bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform. The March, which is set to take place on May 22-23, will bring together leaders from politics, business, tech, sports, and entertainment to create a digital storm across a variety of social media to back bipartisan immigration legislation that will help attract and retain the world’s best and brightest to fuel innovation and create American jobs. On the days of the March, participants will take part in a pass-the-baton style event that will feature a number of online venues including Huffington Post Live, Google Hangout, Twitter Town Halls, Facebook, Reddit, Livestream, and others. All of this activity will help drive hundreds of thousands of supporters to www.MarchForInnovation.com, where they will be able to use social media and other digital tools to call on their elected officials in Washington to pass comprehensive immigration reform.”
–DEMOCRATS HIGHLIGHT KARL ROVE’S ‘DECADE OF DECEPTION’. The Bridge Project, an offshoot of the Democratic super PAC, American Bridge 21st Century, released a new video today titled, “Karl Rove’s Decade of Deception.” The video criticizes what the group says is “Rove’s habit of misleading the American public when it comes to national security issues — just to score political points. It touches on selling the war in Iraq, fudged intelligence, Valerie Plame, and the new Crossroads ad on Benghazi.” WATCH: http://youtu.be/1_4tG1lOSI8
@matthewjdowd: yes, it is very chilling what justice did to AP, and so is every day for the last ten years the govt. has done the same to average americans
@nickconfessore: My story on the IRS’s contradictory approach to tax-exempt groups: The little guys get squashed, not the big guys http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/14/us/politics/irs-ignored-complaints-on-political-spending-by-big-tax-exempt-groups-watchdog-groups-say.html?hp&_r=0 …
@ZekeJMiller: The new GOP case against Obama: AP phone records, IRS targeting, Benghazi, obamacare rolled into one big brother Pres http://swampland.time.com/2013/05/14/the-new-republican-framing-of-obama-hes-a-lot-like-bush/ …