CBS Highlights Ex-IRS Staffer Who Declares There Were No Politics at Cincinnati Office

Monday’s CBS Evening News took one break from Oklahoma tornado coverage – to run a piece on how an IRS manager who recently retired from the Cincinnati office, where 501 (c)(4) applications were processed, declared “politics and religion were things that people generally didn’t talk about at work.”

Reporter Dean Reynolds focused on the assurances by Bonnie Esrig, who was also featured in a Saturday Washington Post article on how politics had nothing to do with the targeting of conservative groups: “She never heard anyone say the words ‘the President wants this done.’”

Reynolds asserted “she worked in the same office where fewer than 200 people were dealing with 73,000 applications for exemptions last year,” though the relevant number of applications for the (c)(4) status was around 1,500 to 2,000 per year according to Washington Post “fact checker” Glenn Kessler.

Reynolds relayed how “she said there was little guidance on how to differentiate between so-called social welfare groups, that deserved exemptions, and political advocacy groups that did not,” so “the agents searched for short cuts to identify groups seeking exemptions.”

Esrig described an innocuous process: “It was looking for patterns. There are variables that may have caused some groups to come up more than others. Like if there were liberal group but they had different names it might have been harder to detect a pattern. But if you had another group where maybe ‘tea party’ showed up in a lot of the applications, then it’s like, okay, here’s a lot of the same thing.”

From the Monday, May 20 CBS Evening News:

SCOTT PELLEY: We’ll be going right back to Oklahoma City, but there has been a significant development in the IRS story. We learned today that some of the President’s top aides knew weeks ago that the IRS was targeting some conservative groups for special review. But they did not tell the President, preferring to keep him out of it. Mr. Obama has said he first learned all of this from news reports ten days ago. Spokesman Jay Carney said today, quote: “Some matters are not appropriate to convey to him and this is one of them.”

The targeting took place in the IRS office in Cincinnati, Ohio, and Dean Reynolds has spoken to a former manager there.

DEAN REYNOLDS: Few workers know the IRS Cincinnati office better than Bonnie Esrig.

So 24 years in Cincinnati at the IRS office? She retired from her job as a senior manager in January.

REYNOLDS TO ESRIG: Do you recall there being a lot of discussion of politics?

ESRIG: No, absolutely not. Politics and religion were things that people generally didn’t talk about at work.

REYNOLDS: Esrig didn’t work on political cases and was not connected to the applications at the center of this controversy. But she worked in the same office where fewer than 200 people were dealing with 73,000 applications for exemptions last year. She said there was little guidance on how to differentiate between so-called social welfare groups, that deserved exemptions, and political advocacy groups that did not.

REYNOLDS TO ESRIG: Is it safe to say that you were swamped?

ESRIG: Absolutely. There was an awful lot of confusion during that time, both at the local level
-- in Cincinnati and, I think, in headquarters.

REYNOLDS: She said the agents searched for short cuts to identify groups seeking exemptions.

ESRIG: It was looking for patterns. There are variables that may have caused some groups to come up more than others. Like if there were liberal group but they had different names it might have been harder to detect a pattern. But if you had another group where maybe "tea party" showed up in a lot of the applications, then it's like, okay, here's a lot of the same thing.

REYNOLDS: Do you understand how detective perceived, though, out there in the country that the administration was using the IRS to beat up on its political opponents?

ESRIG: I can see why people who would like to believe that could believe that. I just don't think that it was realistic and I feel certain that didn't happen.

REYNOLDS: She also told us, Scott, that in her 24 years here at the IRS in Cincinnati, under two Democratic and two Republican administrations, she never heard anyone say the words “the President wants this done.”

Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center