A besieged White House dug in its heels Sunday and defended figures at the center of the unfolding Internal Revenue Service scandal while reiterating that President Obama knew nothing of the misdeeds inside the agency.
White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer, appearing on four Sunday morning political talk shows, offered strong support for Sarah Hall Ingram, who led the agency’s tax-exempt division as it admittedly targeted conservative groups. She recently was promoted to chief of the health care reform office, tasked with implementing “Obamacare.”
“No one has suggested that she did anything wrong yet,” Mr. Pfeiffer said on “Fox News Sunday.”
“Before everyone in this town convicts this person in the court of public opinion with no evidence, let’s actually get the facts and make decisions after that. There’s nothing that suggests she did anything wrong,” he said.
Other IRS authorities have paid the price for what officials on both sides of the aisle, along with a host of others, have described as outrageous behavior. Steven Miller, former acting IRS commissioner questioned by Congress last week, was pushed out by the president.
Ms. Ingram’s replacement, Joseph Grant, has announced his retirement despite taking the job only a few weeks ago.
By keeping Ms. Ingram in place — and giving her the controls of something as complex and controversial as Obamacare — the administration is adding fuel to an already raging fire.
Republicans and many others were skeptical of the federal government and its competence to implement health care reform, and Ms. Ingram’s involvement only generates more questions.
Many Republicans also say that when the smoke clears, the American public will learn that it was not merely rogue IRS employees who targeted tea party and other conservative groups. Rather, they argue, there was a policy directive to silence critics of the president, and some higher-level figure, whether it was Ms. Ingram or someone else, had to have been involved.
“I think we’re going to find that there’s a written policy that says we were targeting people who were opposed to the president. I can’t believe that one rogue agent started this. It seems to be too widespread,” said Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican and potential 2016 presidential candidate.
His Republican colleague Sen. John Cornyn of Texas agreed that there must be more to the story.
“Bureaucrats don’t take risks unless they have a signal, either explicit or implicit, from their higher-ups that what you’re doing is exactly what we expect you to do,” he said during an interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “I have a very hard time believing that this was something cooked up in Cincinnati by midlevel employees.”
Rep. Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, called the situation “rotten to the core” and said the IRS ordeal gives the American people a chance to truly see “big government in practice.”
Many of the president’s fellow Democrats are fighting back on a different front. There is no defending the targeting of Americans based on political belief, but lawmakers increasingly are raising the broader issue of whether so many groups should be granted tax-exempt status.
“There’s a second scandal here, and that is that hundreds of millions have been used [by tax-exempt groups] that are supposed to be used as nonprofit social welfare entities for political purposes” said Sen. Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat, speaking on ABC’s “This Week.”
Rep. Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat, argued that IRS employees couldn’t have understood the complex laws governing which groups can be considered tax-exempt or how politically active they can be before they cross the line.
“This law lends itself to abuse,” he said, also appearing on ABC. “I don’t think that gang in Cincinnati had the slightest clue as to find out whether or not people making contributions were involved in politics or whether they were involved in social welfare.”