While President Obama said Monday that he is withholding judgment on the Internal Revenue Service's targeting of conservative groups, angry congressional leaders from both parties aren't waiting — they plan to begin hearings on the matter this week.
The president, speaking during a news conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron, said it would be "outrageous" and "contrary to our traditions" if IRS personnel "engaged in the kind of practices that have been reported on."
He vowed that if the reports are true, those responsible will be held accountable.
"I've got no patience with it. I will not tolerate it. And we'll make sure that we find out exactly what happened on this," he said.
Mr. Obama, who said he first learned of the matter from media reports Friday, added that it would be premature to comment on specifics of the case until the Treasury Department's inspector general for tax administration releases its results of a nearly yearlong investigation into the matter. The report is expected out this week.
But the House Ways and Means Committee on Friday will hold the first of what likely will be many congressional hearings on the IRS. Acting IRS Commissioner Steve Miller and Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration J. Russell George are the scheduled witnesses.
Committee Chairman Dave Camp, Michigan Republican, vowed that his panel would "get to the bottom of this [IRS] practice and ensure it never takes place again."
Rep. Sander M. Levin of Michigan, the committee's senior Democrat, supports the hearing, saying "it is essential that there be a thorough and bipartisan investigation and effective remedial action."
Mr. Miller took control of the IRS after Commissioner Mr. Shulman — who was appointed by President George W. Bush — stepped down in November at the end of his term.
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a likely 2016 Republican presidential candidate, wrote to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew to demand Mr. Miller's resignation.
"It is clear the IRS cannot operate with even a shred of the American people's confidence under the current leadership," Mr. Rubio wrote.
Mr. Rubio, who was elected thanks in part to strong support from tea party groups, called the targeting "outrageous and seriously concerning" and a "direct assault on our Constitution."
Republicans quickly jumped on the IRS after the agency 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 under Mr. Shulman. But on Monday, several congressional Democrats joined a growing bipartisan chorus condemning the tax-collecting agency.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, called the IRS practice an "outrageous abuse of power and a breach of the public's trust."
"Targeting groups based on their political views is not only inappropriate but it is intolerable," Mr. Baucus said.
Although he will wait to launch a probe until he reviews the independent inspector general's report, Mr. Baucus said, "the IRS should be prepared for a full investigation into this matter by the Senate Finance Committee."
"The American people have questions for the IRS and I intend to get answers," he said. "The IRS will now be the ones put under additional scrutiny."
Sen. Joe Manchin III, West Virginia Democrat, called the IRS actions "unacceptable and un-American." He called on Mr. Obama to "immediately condemn this attack on our values, find those individuals in his administration who are responsible and fire them."
Lois Lerner, who heads the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt groups, on Friday apologized for the "inappropriate" practice and said the cases were initiated by low-level workers in Cincinnati and were not motivated by political bias.
But some senior IRS officials knew agents were targeting tea party groups as early as June 2011, according to an inspector general's timeline of events obtained by The Washington Times.
Mr. Shulman denied that the agency was targeting conservative groups when he testified on Capitol Hill in March 2012. It's unclear from the timeline when, or whether, the former commissioner knew his agency was targeting conservative groups.
Mr. Miller failed to tell Congress that tea party groups were being inappropriately targeted, even after he had been briefed on the matter, The Associated Press reported.
The IRS said Monday that Mr. Miller was first informed on May, 3, 2012, that applications for tax-exempt status by tea party groups were singled out for extra, sometimes burdensome, scrutiny.
But after House Ways and Means Committee member Charles Boustany, Louisiana Republican, raised concerns with the IRS about complaints that tea party groups were being harassed, Mr. Shulman wrote to the panel on June 15, 2012, to explain the process of reviewing applications for tax-exempt status without mentioning the controversy.
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