While some White House officials, including press secretary Jay Carney, have tried to minimize the impact of the IRS political-targeting scandal, saying the abuses ended in May 2012 and the practice is a thing of the past, victims say they are still feeling the impact.
Dozens of the conservative groups singled out for special attention by the Internal Revenue Service say they are still waiting for tax-exempt status to be approved — three or four years after they applied and after submitting thousands of pages of documentation.
The groups have begun to sue, but their cases are pending, and some argue they have lost out on grants that are available only to nonprofits. The IRS delays, they contend, hampered fundraising in the heated competition among tea party groups.
Mr. Carney tried to convince reporters that the story was old news during a contentious Monday briefing with reporters.
"The misconduct had stopped in May of 2012," he said while under heavy fire for acknowledging the White House knew about the IRS inspector general's investigation into the matter earlier than he had indicated last week. "So despite all the media interest in our April 2013 awareness, it's important to remember that the misconduct, of course, had stopped almost a year earlier."
True the Vote — one of the conservative groups the IRS subjected to special scrutiny when it applied for tax-exempt status — slapped the federal government with a lawsuit Tuesday in an effort to force the tax agency to approve its application.
Other conservative groups say they are still in damage-control mode with fundraisers and their supporters over other IRS malfeasance.
The National Organization for Marriage, a group advocating against same-sex marriage, has also announced it will file a lawsuit seeking damages over the tax agency's alleged illegal leaking of the organization's confidential tax return from 2008 to the Human Rights Campaign, NOM's principal political opponent.
"In addition to being our principal combatant in the war on traditional marriage, the HRC's president at the time was serving as co-chairman of President Obama's re-election campaign. This is a chilling set of circumstances that should ring alarm bells across this nation," said Brian Brown, the organization's president.
NOM has retained ActRight Legal Foundation to file the lawsuit in federal court in the District of Columbia.
Faced with a firestorm of questions about his shifting narrative on the IRS targeting of conservative groups, as well as the White House's involvement in changing Benghazi talking points and snooping on reporters' phone records, Mr. Carney abandoned the narrative that the targeting is no longer active.
He didn't use the argument Wednesday and did not respond to a direct inquiry from The Washington Times about whether he still considers the targeting a past activity with no current repercussions for the groups.
Mr. Carney was focused on a different problem Wednesday: how Mr. Obama would fulfill his pledge to get to the bottom of the IRS scandal and hold people accountable when Lois Lerner, the director of the IRS division that singled out the conservative groups, isn't talking. She invoked the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination at a House hearing on the program Wednesday.
When asked why she is still employed at the IRS, Mr. Carney said he thinks "it's important to find the facts before you hold people accountable."
He also noted that Mr. Obama has asked newly installed IRS chief Daniel Werfel for a 30-day review of the targeting program and who was involved.
He also pushed back against reports that former IRS Commissioner Douglas H. Shulman had visited the White House 118 times in 2011 and when asked whether he discussed any type of targeting by the IRS with anyone during those meetings, he said, "Not to my memory."
"I certainly have no information that ... would contradict that," he said.
The embattled presidential spokesman was treading carefully. He had just told the press corps that he's likely to make more mistakes in fact and chronology on stories, explaining that he was not trying to be duplicitous but he doesn't always get all the information or anticipate all questions in his rush to respond as quickly as the news cycle demands.
"The approach we take is we get the information to you that we have as soon as we can, and we try to get that information to you as quickly as possible and as comprehensively as possible," he said. "Now, quickly and comprehensively are not objectives that we always meet."
To reporters who asked about details of the Benghazi attacks and the complaints about the improper targeting of conservative groups early on, the assertion rung hollow.
But Mr. Carney may be turning over a new leaf. His 48th birthday was Wednesday. Or he may just be trying to hang onto his job.
Either way, he struck a far more humble and amiable tone Wednesday, at one point acknowledging that there have been "some legitimate criticisms about how we're handling this," adding "I say legitimate, because I mean it."
"It's part of our democracy, and it's a great part of our democracy," he said, as if to welcome more vigorous debate from a press corps that is often criticized for being too conciliatory.
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