White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer said Sunday the question of whether any laws were broken in the Internal Revenue Scandal is "irrelevant" to the fact that the agency's actions were wrong and unjustifiable.
"I can’t speak to the law here. The law is irrelevant," Pfefiffer said on ABC News's "This Week With George Stephanopoulos." "The activity was outrageous and inexcusable, and it was stopped and it needs to be fixed to ensure it never happens again."
Stephanopoulos replied: "You don’t really mean the law is irrelevant, do you?"
Pfeiffer responded: "What I mean is, whether it’s legal or illegal is not important to the fact that the conduct doesn’t matter. The Department of Justice has said that they’re looking into the legality of this. The president is not going to wait for that. We have to make sure it does not happen again, regardless of how that turns out."
At issue is the recent revelation that the IRS singled out conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status for extra scrutiny. The Justice Department announced last week that it had opened up a criminal investigation to determine whether any laws were broken.
Pfeiffer said no one at the White House was aware of the situation at the IRS until last month, when the White House counsel's office received word the IRS inspector general was looking into matters at the Cincinnati IRS office. The White House did not know the details of the investigation or its conclusion until it was released publicly last week, he said.
"It’s important to know what we actually knew, which is just that there was an investigation, it was coming to conclusion," Pfeiffer said. "Not that we knew the results. We didn’t see the report until it was released last Wednesday."
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said last week that the IRS inspector general informed the White House Counsel's office in April that it was reviewing matters involving the Cincinnati office. The White House has said President Obama did not learn of the IRS's actions until he saw news reports on the matter earlier this month.
Top Treasury Department tax watchdog J. Russell George told the House Ways and Means Committee Friday that he informed the Treasury’s general counsel last June and Deputy Treasury Secretary Neal S. Wolin “shortly thereafter" about problems related to the special attention the agency was paying some conservative organizations. Pfeiffer said as far as he knows, Wolin did not inform the White House.
Obama demanded and received the resignation last week of acting-IRS Commissioner Steven T. Miller, and appointed budget official Daniel Werfel to be his replacement. Pfeiffer said Sunday Werfel will conduct a 30-day "top down review" at the agency "to see that anyone who did anything wrong is going to be held accountable."
Sarah Hall Ingram, the IRS official who was responsible for tax-exempt groups when the agency was singling out conservative groups now heads the agency's Affordable Care Act office. Pfeiffer said the 30-day review must happen before passing judgment on whether she did anything wrong.
"[Ingram] is not mentioned in the inspector general’s report, so let’s get the facts before we try to indict this person in the court of public opinion," he said.
Republicans on Sunday continued to assail the Obama administration over the IRS scandal. Pfeiffer countered on NBC News's "Meet The Press" by accusing Republicans of "looking to make political hay."
"There is a culture of intimidation throughout the administration. The IRS is just the most recent example," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on "Meet The Press."
"I can't believe one rogue agent started this because it seems to be too widespread," Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said on CNN's "State of The Union."
"This is arrogance of power, abuse of power, to the Nth degree," added Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on "Fox News Sunday."
Pfeiffer promised the White House would work with Congress, which also is investigating the IRS. He warned, though, that "What we’re not going to participate in is partisan fishing expeditions designed to distract from the real issues at hand."
Pfeiffer appeared on all five Sunday news talk shows on the heels of a week in which the White House was put on defense by the IRS scandal, questions about the deadly attack in Benghazi, Libya last year and the Justice Department's decision to obtain Associated Press journalists' phone records.