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Emails show that former IRS official in tea party probe sought audit involving GOP senator

WASHINGTON - Congressional investigators say they uncovered emails Wednesday showing that a former Internal Revenue Service official at the heart of the tea party investigation sought an audit involving a Republican senator in 2012.

The emails show former IRS official Lois Lerner mistakenly received an invitation to an event that was meant to go to Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa. Grassley presumably received Lerner's invitation.

The event organizer apparently offered to pay for Grassley's wife to attend the event. In an email to another IRS official, Lerner suggests referring the matter for an audit, saying it might be inappropriate for the group to pay for his wife.

"Perhaps we should refer to exam?" Lerner wrote.

It was unclear from the emails whether Lerner was suggesting that Grassley or the group be audited — or both.

The other IRS official, Matthew Giuliano, waived her off, saying an audit would be premature because Grassley hadn't even accepted the invitation.

"It would be Grassley who would need to report the income," Giuliano said.

The name of the event organizer was blacked out on copies of the emails released by the House Ways and Means Committee because they were considered confidential taxpayer information. Grassley and his wife signed waivers allowing their names to be released.

Grassley didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

The IRS says it has lost an untold numbers of Lerner's emails because her computer crashed in 2011, sparking outrage among Republican lawmakers who have accused the tax agency of a coverup. The emails released Wednesday were among the thousands that have been turned over to congressional investigators.

"We have seen a lot of unbelievable things in this investigation, but the fact that Lois Lerner attempted to initiate an apparently baseless IRS examination against a sitting Republican United States senator is shocking," Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, said. "At every turn, Lerner was using the IRS as a tool for political purposes in defiance of taxpayer rights."

Lerner headed the IRS division that processes applications for tax-exempt status. The IRS has acknowledged that agents improperly scrutinized applications by tea party and other conservative groups before the 2010 and 2012 elections. Documents show that some liberal groups were singled out, too.

Grassley had been an outspoken critic of the way the IRS policed tax-exempt groups even before the tea party controversy erupted last year.

In one email, Lerner indicates that she won't attend the event.

"Don't think I want to be on the stage with Grassley on this issue," she wrote.

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Follow Stephen Ohlemacher on Twitter: http://twitter.com/stephenatap

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