A federal criminal probe has been launched into
possible politically motivated scrutiny of conservative groups by the
tax-collecting Internal Revenue Service, the Justice Department said
"I have ordered an investigation to be begun," Attorney General Eric Holder said. "The FBI is coordinating with the Justice Department to see if any laws were broken in connection with those matters related to the IRS."
The federal tax agency last week admitted to targeting non-profit groups for extra scrutiny based on suspected associations with the so-called Tea Party, a conservative political movement that advocates smaller government and first arose in 2009-10.
"Those were, I think, as everyone can agree - if not criminal - they were certainly outrageous and unacceptable," Holder said. "But we are examining the facts to see if there were criminal violations."
He said the probe was ordered Friday, when an IRS official revealed that the agency singled out groups using names including "Tea Party" or "patriot" that applied for tax-exempt status.
A congressional hearing on the IRS scandal is scheduled for Friday.
The Tea Party movement is loosely organized around numerous national and local groups with no central body. Most of its members identify with the conservative Republican Party and overwhelmingly oppose left-leaning President Barack Obama's policies on health care, taxes and deficits.
Tea Party groups, which derive the name from the 1773 Boston Tea Party, a protest against British colonial tax policies, complained last year that they were required to provide inordinate amounts of information when they applied for tax-exempt status.
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