POST FALLS - U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo met with the Panhandle Pachyderm Club Friday at Templin's Red Lion Inn in Post Falls to discuss the latest on the Internal Revenue Service scandal.
"We started hearing the IRS was targeting people about three years ago," the senator told an audience of about 60 people.
He said that is when he started looking into the issue and was told that there was nothing to it.
"The head of the IRS said they were not targeting anyone for political purposes, even though he has been to the White House over a hundred times," Crapo said, adding it was probably even more than 100 times.
According to one audience member, he had been there 157 times.
Since then, Crapo said Congress has learned that the agency was in fact targeting conservative groups that were engaged in political activity.
"An Inspector General investigation revealed that the agency had created a BOLO list," Crapo said. "BOLO stands for Be On the LookOut for."
At first, they were looking for two terms "Tea Party" and "Patriots," he said. Then they expanded the BOLO list to monitor conservative groups that used terms like:
* Government debt
* Limited government
* Bill of Rights
* Social and economic reform
Crapo said the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing on the Inspector General's findings last week, and at the same time the Senate Banking Committee held a similar hearing to discuss the matter with Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew.
Crapo sits on both committees and he told the crowd about how he bounced between the hearings to get to the bottom of the story. He started at the Banking Committee where he asked Lew to explain the situation.
"The secretary said that the inspector general found no evidence of political motivations," Crapo said. "Then I went downstairs to the Finance Committee hearing to talk with the inspector general."
He asked the IG to explain how he determined there was no political motivation.
"He said 'I asked the IRS agents,'" the senator said. "And he said they were not under oath."
Crapo said at the end of his discussion with the IG he asked if there should be more investigation, and the IG told him that yes there should be.
Crapo then went back to the Banking Committee meeting and corrected Lew, telling him that the IG had just testified that he hasn't found any evidence of political motivation yet, but he agreed that more investigation is needed.
"At that point he said 'I will not speculate on facts I don't know,'" Crapo said.
Crapo said that the Senate, the House and the IG are all investigating the issue now, and added that he would like to also see an independent investigation launched as well.
"I would like to see an independent council formed that would conduct an investigation where these people can be interviewed under oath," he said. "Given the gridlock we have back there, it will be tough."
He told the Pachyderm Club that there are more Idahoans investigated in this scandal, but the Tea Party Patriots of North Idaho was a classic case. He asked Leslie Damiano, the former president of the group, if she wanted to explain her experience.
She said while applying for nonprofit status, the IRS became very invasive in what they were asking for.
"They even wanted a user name and password to our website, so they could monitor what we're talking about," she said.
Damiano said they decided to fold the Tea Party at that point and sent an email to Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice.
He replied to the email saying that at that time there were about 100 other groups that were reporting similar experiences, she said. That number has since grown to more than 500 groups.
In an interview after the meeting Crapo said he is not sure what will come of the investigation.
"We don't know what we'll uncover at this point," he said. "Ultimately, we want to get the documentation and witnesses to get to the bottom of the issue."
He said when you have an IRS administrator like Lois Lerner being advised to plead the Fifth Amendment, there is likely more to the story.
"When your advisers tell you take the Fifth, it is usually to avoid criminal prosecution," he added.
He said the evidence may well show that there was some criminal activity, but he doesn't want to speculate on what that might be at this point.
He said the Senate investigation is expected to last for the next few months.