“If in fact IRS personnel engaged in the kind of practices that have been reported on, and were intentionally targeting conservative groups, then that’s outrageous,” Obama said. “And there’s no place for it. And they have to be held fully accountable.”
White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters Monday that the White House counsel’s office learned of an upcoming IRS inspector general’s report on April 22 as part of a routine notification but had not received access to the report.
On Capitol Hill, two Senate panels — the Finance Committee and the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations — announced Monday that they will investigate. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the Ways and Means Committee have been looking into reports of IRS attempts to single out organizations on the right for heightened scrutiny. Ways and Means has called IRS officials to testify Friday.
“These actions by the IRS are an outrageous abuse of power and a breach of the public’s trust,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.). “The IRS will now be the ones put under additional scrutiny.”
Separately, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) introduced companion bills Monday that would require the IRS to fire any employee found “willfully” violating “the constitutional rights of a taxpayer,” according to statements by both lawmakers. The bills also would make them criminally liable for their actions.
Even as Obama vowed that his administration “will make sure that we find out exactly what happened on this,” however, the IRS offered no new information on how it selected which groups to single out for scrutiny.
The White House is legally barred from contacting the IRS about a tax matter, under a prohibition adopted after the Watergate scandal. And although it can contact the Treasury Department about tax issues, neither Treasury nor the IRS can disclose specific taxpayer information. The IRS can release information about a petition for tax-
exempt status only after it has been approved.
Obama is not in a position to remove Lerner, a career official who can be terminated for cause only under normal civil service proceedings. The IRS has two political appointees: the commissioner, who serves a five-year term, and the chief counsel.
As the IRS came under broader political attack Monday, more details surfaced on how the exempt-organizations division struggled to determine which nonprofits should receive “social welfare” status after the 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling. That decision, which allowed corporations and unions to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money on elections, opened the door for groups to accept undisclosed contributions as long as their “primary purpose” was not politics.