- The Washington Times - Friday, May 10, 2013

The White House on Friday said it was wrong for the Internal Revenue Service to target some conservative groups — notably ones that had the words “tea party” in their titles — during the 2012 election session.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Friday he expects the IRS’s independent inspector general to conduct a full investigation into the matter, and said President supports a thorough probe.

“We certainly find the actions taken, as reported, to be inappropriate,” Mr. Carney told reporters.

The IRS earlier in the day admitted some of its auditors inappropriately flagged conservative political groups for additional reviews to check if they were violating their tax-exempt status. The agency apologized.

Mr. Carney noted that the IRS is an independent enforcement agency with only two political appointees. And the agency — party led at the time by a George W. Bush appointee — blamed low-level employees, saying no high-level officials were aware of the practice.

But congressional Republicans and conservative groups off Capitol Hill quickly jumped on the administration over the matter.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, called the practice “thuggish” and called on the Obama administration to conduct a government-wide review to assure the practice isn’t systemic within the IRS or happening elsewhere in the administration.

“Make no mistake, an apology won’t put this issue to rest,” he said. “Now more than ever, we need to send a clear message to the Obama administration that the First Amendment is non-negotiable, and that apologies after an election year are not an sufficient response to what we now know took place at the IRS.”

“This kind of political thuggery has absolutely no place in our politics,” he added.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, promised the House will investigate the matter.

“The IRS cannot target or intimidate any individual or organization based on their political beliefs,” he said.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, California Republican, called the IRS’s action “unconscionable” and said his panel will hold “responsible officials accountable for this political retaliation.”

Organizations were singled out because they included the words “tea party” or “patriot” in their applications for tax-exempt status, said Lois Lerner, who heads the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt groups. In some cases, groups were asked for their list of donors, which violates IRS policy in most cases, she said.

“That was wrong. That was absolutely incorrect, it was insensitive and it was inappropriate. That’s not how we go about selecting cases for further review,” Mrs. Lerner said at a conference sponsored by the American Bar Association.

“The IRS would like to apologize for that.”

Ms. Lerner said the practice was initiated by low-level workers in Cincinnati and was not motivated by political bias. After her talk, she told the Associated Press that no high-level IRS officials knew about the practice. She did not say when the political targeting was discovered.

About 75 groups were inappropriately targeted. None had their tax-exempt status revoked, Ms. Lerner said.

Several tea party-affiliated groups complained last year the IRS had unfairly targeted them. Mr. McConnell, in a July speech to the conservative American Enterprise Institute, accused the tax agency of leaking sensitive information from conservative groups to the president’s re-election campaign.

The Tea Party Patriots, which calls itself as the nation’s largest tea party organization, rejected the IRS’s apology and demanded the immediate resignations of all of those involved in the “deliberate harassment” of tea party groups.

“The IRS has demonstrated the most disturbing, illegal and outrageous abuse of government power,” said Jenny Beth Martin, the group’s national coordinator.

Ms. Martin also demanded President Obama apologize and called for Congress to investigate.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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