Obama Says He Won’t 'Tolerate' Wrongdoing at IRS

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

This story has been updated. 

President Obama on Monday vowed to hold accountable Internal Revenue Service employees involved with improperly targeting conservative groups that applied for tax-exempt status.

The president said during a briefing with reporters that if IRS personnel intentionally singled out certain political groups for special scrutiny “then that’s outrageous and there’s no place for it.” Obama cited the ongoing inspector general investigation expected to be released this week, and would not comment “prematurely” on the audit’s findings. Still, he made it clear there would be repercussions for any wrongdoing. “So, we’ll wait and see exactly what all the details and facts are,” he said. “But I’ve got no patience with it, I will not tolerate it, and I will make sure we find out exactly what happened on this.” The president’s remarks came during a joint press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron.

The IRS on Friday apologized for targeting groups with words like “patriot” and “Tea Party” in their names during a briefing with Lois Lerner, director of the agency’s exempt organizations division, and reporters. The agency said they admitted the improper scrutiny because Lerner was asked about it during another event, but there are questions over whether the IRS timed Friday’s revelation to get out in front of the IG report.

In a statement Saturday, the IRS said that agency senior leaders did not know about the situation in “this level of detail” earlier. 

The agency only has two political appointees -- the commissioner and the chief counsel -- and so far, officials have indicated “low-level” employees were involved in singling out certain groups improperly.

The National Treasury Employees Union, which represents many IRS employees, did not have much to say about the matter on Monday. “NTEU is working to get the facts but does not have any specifics at this time,” NTEU President Colleen Kelley said in a statement. “Moreover, IRS employees are not permitted to discuss taxpayer cases.”

Lerner apparently knew about the special scrutiny in June 2011, according to a report in The Washington Post, which obtained a copy of the IG audit. After conservative groups complained about being singled out, then-Commissioner Douglas Shulman told Congress in March 2012 that the agency was not intentionally targeting such groups. Shulman, who was appointed in March 2008 by former President George W. Bush, left the agency in November 2012 when his term expired.

Steven T. Miller, who is deputy commissioner of services and enforcement, is now acting commissioner.

Republicans are apoplectic over the IRS’ admission that it targeted conservative groups and are calling for investigations, and in some cases, resignations. “It is clear the IRS cannot operate with even a shred of the American people’s confidence under the current leadership,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., in a May 13 letter to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, urging him and Obama to demand the resignation of the commissioner, or in this case, acting commissioner.

Obama during Monday’s press conference said the IRS as an independent agency “requires absolute integrity and people have to have confidence that they are applying the laws in a nonpartisan way,” adding that everyone should share that sentiment, regardless of political party. “Either way you don’t want the IRS ever being perceived to be biased and anything less than neutral in terms of how they operate, so I think this is something that people are properly concerned about,” said the president.

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