According to multiple reports, top IRS officials in Washington were informed in May, 2012 of the practice by the agency's tax-exempt office of scrutinizing conservative groups, some with "tea party" or "patriot" in the name, others that strongly criticized the government.
According to the Washington Post:
[D]etails of the IRS’s efforts to target conservative groups reached the highest levels of the agency in May 2012, far earlier than has been disclosed, according to Republican congressional aides briefed by the IRS and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) on the details of their reviews.
Then-Commissioner Douglas Shulman, a George W. Bush appointee who stepped down in November, received a briefing from the TIGTA about what was happening in the Cincinnati office in May 2012, the aides said. His deputy and the agency’s current acting commissioner, Steven T. Miller, also learned about the matter that month, the aides said.
Miller, the Associated Press reports, failed to reveal the practice to Congress when asked for details on how the agency determines tax-exempt status, including during July, 2012 testimony before the House Ways and Means oversight committee.
In addition, Reuters reports, a lawyer for a number of Tea Party groups says that some of his clients were contacted by IRS officials in offices in Washington, D.C. and California, and not just Cincinnati. The IRS initially maintained that the practice was limited to one office in Ohio that was tasked with reviewing tax-exempt applications.
Adding to the IRS' problems, ProPublica reports that in addition to the alleged targeting, the IRS also released confidential pending applications from conservative groups to ProPublica last year.