Republicans ramped up calls Sunday for an independent investigation into the Internal Revenue Service's targeting of conservative groups for special scrutiny.
"This really does call for a special counsel," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, on "Fox News Sunday." "The culture of going after tea party groups that were on the president's case about 'Obamacare' did not accidentally happen. I think it comes from the top with the tone."
Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, reiterated his call for a special counsel to investigate the scandal, warning that President Obama risks losing his "moral authority" as the nation's leader unless he shows that he's taking the problem seriously.
"I think the constellation of these three scandals ongoing really takes away from the president's moral authority to lead the nation," Mr. Paul said on ABC's "This Week." "Nobody questions his legal authority, but I think he's really losing the moral authority to lead this nation. And he really needs to put a stop to this. I don't care whether you're a Republican or a Democrat; nobody likes to see the opposite party punishing you for your political beliefs, using the power of government to do so."
Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, defended a letter he wrote to the IRS in October 2010 asking the agency to look into the tax-exempt status of Crossroads GPS, a group founded by GOP strategist Karl Rove.
"I can tell you flat out why I did it. That Crossroads group was boasting about how much money they were raising as a 501(c)4," Mr. Durbin said on "Fox News Sunday." "Here's the IRS trying to decide whether these groups really comply with the law. Crossroads was Exhibit A — they were boastful about how much they were going to raise and beat Democrats."
He said that he only mentioned Crossroads in his letter because he "knew if they went in to investigate this group, every other group would be put on notice."
Other Democratic senators wrote a letter in 2010 asking the agency to investigate the legitimacy of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status.
"There was no basis for targeting within the IRS," Mr. Durbin said. "What we basically need to say is all groups need to have the law applied to them equally. In this situation, Karl Rove was front and center and proud of it. And that's why I mentioned his organization."
Republicans stopped short of accusing the president of using the agency to target his political foes, but Mr. Graham said the administration is responsible for setting parameters for what it will and will not tolerate.
"I think the president has basically told some of his supporters that the best way to get back at somebody is to win, sort of talking about revenge, this 'take-no-prisoners' attitude," Mr. Graham said. "There's clearly an organized effort within the IRS to target the president's political opponents. How does such a culture come about?"
Were any crimes committed? "I don't think we know so far," Mr. Paul said.
"I think there needs to be a speedy resolution to this," Mr. Paul said. "If [Mr. Obama] goes beyond 30 days and if no one is fired over this? I really think it's going to be trouble for him trying to lead in the next four years."
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