Capitol Hill Republicans on Sunday called the Internal Revenue Service's targeting of conservative groups "chilling" and demanded a congressional inquiry.
Sen. Susan M. Collins, Maine Republican, told CNN's "State of the Union" that the revelation is "truly outrageous" and contributes to the "profound distrust that the American people have in government."
"It is absolutely chilling that the IRS was singling out conservative groups for extra review, and I think it's very disappointing that the president hasn't personally condemned this and spoken out," Ms. Collins said.
She said President Obama "needs to make crystal clear that this is totally unacceptable in America."
Rep. Mike Rogers, Michigan Republican and chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, called the IRS practice a dangerous problem that warrants congressional action.
"I don't care if you're a conservative, a liberal, a Democrat or a Republican, this should send a chill up your spine," Mr. Rogers said on "Fox News Sunday." "This is something that we cannot let stand."
The IRS admitted Friday that some auditors gave heightened scrutiny to applications for tax-exempt status from tea party and other conservative groups during the 2012 election season.
Lois Lerner, who heads the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt groups, apologized and said the cases were initiated by low-level workers in Cincinnati and were not motivated by political bias.
But The Associated Press reported Sunday that senior IRS officials knew agents were targeting tea party groups as early as 2011, according to a draft of an inspector general's report obtained by news outlet.
Ms. Lerner learned at a meeting in June 2011 that groups with "tea party," "patriot" or "9/12 Project" in their names were being flagged for additional and often burdensome scrutiny, according to the watchdog report.
The 9/12 Project is a group started by conservative TV personality Glenn Beck. Mr. Beck, in a statement Saturday, said that for more than a year he has been reporting that the IRS unfairly targeted his and other conservatives groups and that "it is nice to see everyone else playing catch-up and finally asking the same questions."
The Treasury Department's inspector general for tax administration is expected to release the results of a nearly yearlong investigation this week.
The White House on Friday quickly condemned the IRS practice and said it supports a full review.
"The fact of the matter is what we know about this is of concern," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters. "We certainly find the actions taken, as reported, to be inappropriate."
The Obama administration also moved quickly to distance itself from the independent enforcement agency, noting that the IRS has only two political appointees.
Ms. Collins said she doesn't believe the problem is limited to a few rogue IRS employees, noting that groups with "progressive" in their titles weren't targeted.
"If it had been just a small group of employees, then you would think that the high-level IRS supervisors would have rushed to make this public, fired the employees involved and apologized to the American people and informed Congress," she told CNN. "None of that happened in a timely way."
Rep. Darrell E. Issa, California Republican and chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said he isn't satisfied with the IRS apology and that the agency must undergo reforms to ensure such actions aren't repeated.
"There has to be accountability for the people who did it," he said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "This mea culpa is not an honest one."
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, also said she is concerned.
"My understanding is the inspector general is doing a report, that report should be out shortly, and I think we have to take a good look at it,"she said on "Meet the Press."
The Tea Party Patriots, which calls itself the nation's largest tea party organization, rejected the IRS apology and demanded the immediate resignations of all of those involved in the "deliberate harassment" of tea party groups.
"We will fight this problem with the IRS and we will win because our freedom depends on our ability to exercise our constitutional rights," said Jenny Beth Martin, national coordinator for Tea Party Patriots.
• This article is based in part on wire service reports.
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