Republican lawmakers joined forces Thursday with tea party leaders on Capitol Hill, calling for a thorough investigation into the IRS targeting of conservative groups for special scrutiny and demanding that the Obama administration come clean about what it knew about the scandal.
The press conference came less than a day after President Obama forced out the acting IRS commissioner and featured a rare public show of support for the tea party movement from Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who described the tax agency's behavior as an example of "runaway government at its worst."
"There is going to be a completely and thorough investigation of this in Congress, not only who above might have known about it but what the rank and file believed was their mission," Mr. McConnell said, who has tangled at times with tea party critics in his home state of Kentucky. "The truth will come out, it always does. It could come out sooner or later, but I can guarantee you that we will find out everything that happened."
Tea party-affiliated groups told reporters that when they applied for tax exempt status the IRS badgered them with requests for membership lists, rundowns of the books they read and print-outs of every posting they had made on their Facebook pages.
Jordan Sekulow, executive director of American Center for Law and Justice, which represents some of the tea party groups, said the center will be filing civil lawsuits next week could possibly pursue criminal charges over the tax service's actions.
Rep. Michelle Bachmann, the head of the House Tea Party Caucus, organized the press conference Thursday - thrusting the Minnesota Republican back into the middle of a national debate for one of the first times since her disappointing 2012 presidential bid.
Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Mr. McConnell, Mrs. Bachmann said that the scandal raises serious questions about the central role the IRS plays in implementing the president's new national health care law.
"Could there potentially be political implications regarding health care, access to health care, denial of health care?" she said. "Will that happen based upon a person's political beliefs or their religiously held beliefs?"
Mrs. Bachmann said that the chairman of the House oversight and ways and means committee have vowed to hold hearings on the tax agency's actions, and she predicted that the blowback from the scandal will convince Mr. Obama to scrap his health care overhaul.
"The American people have not been told the truth and what we need to know is what did the White House know and when did they know it,"Mrs. Bachmann said. "We believe," she added, "that the heat will become so hot that even the president of the United States will be forced to repudiate his signature legislation."
Others said the resignation of Mr. Miller was a step in the right direction, but also were quick to note that he was already scheduled to leave the post in June and was not calling the shots at the IRS at the time of the misconduct.
Kentucky GOP Sen. Rand Paul, the head of the Senate Tea Party caucus and likely 2016 presidential candidate, said that someone needs to be imprisoned or prosecuted.
"We need to find out who wrote this policy, who approved this policy, and they need to be held accountable," Mr. Paul told the gathering.
The uproar over the IRS targeting added to the recent headaches of the Obama administration, which is also under fire for the way it handled the attacks that left four Americans dead in Benghazi, Libya and for monitoring the phone logs of reporters at the Associated Press as part of an investigation into a national security leak that Attorney General Eric Holder said "put the American people at risk."
The Treasury inspector general for the tax administration released an audit Tuesday that found the IRS gave special scrutiny to applications from groups that had "Patriot" or "9/12" in their names in 2010 and 2011.
The IRS has said that it wasn't motivated by politics, but rather an influx in applications from tea party-related groups seeking tax-exempt status and the movement geared.
Jenny Beth Martin, the head of Tea Party Patriots, called Thursday for an independent audit of the IRS, saying that the IRS cannot police itself and the Justice Department also lacks credibility at the moment.
"Tea party groups have been waiting for years for the IRS to treat us fairly and equally," she said. "Instead, they have singled us out for discrimination and persecution. Government agents have used the IRS as a weapon to silence speech, harass innocent Americans, and perhaps sway elections."
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