TOPICS > Politics

IRS Under Fire for Scrutinizing Tax Status of Conservative Groups

May 13, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
Reports charge the IRS targeted conservative political groups in 2012 by applying extra scrutiny to organizations that focused on government spending or the U.S. Constitution or had the words "tea party" or "patriot" in their names. Judy Woodruff reports on responses from the president and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: There were stern words at the White House today over IRS targeting of tea party and other conservative groups. President Obama said he first learned about it last week, and he warned it won’t go well for those responsible.

The president’s rebuke came as he answered a question at a joint news conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: If you’ve got the IRS operating in anything less than a neutral and nonpartisan way, then that is outrageous. It is contrary to our traditions. And people have to be held accountable, and it’s got to be fixed.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The news broke last Friday that IRS agents had applied extra scrutiny to groups with “tea party” or “patriot” in their names when they applied for tax-exempt status.

The head of that IRS division apologized on Friday. Lois Lerner said it took place during the 2012 campaign. And she blamed low-level officials in the agency’s Cincinnati office, which handled the applications. But additional reports over the weekend said Lerner herself was informed of the targeting as early as 2011.

Other reports claim that the IRS also zeroed in on groups that focused on government spending or educating Americans about the U.S. Constitution. That information was based on a draft report from a Treasury Department inspector general. The president said today he will wait for that investigation to be completed before making a final judgment.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: This is something that I think people are properly concerned about.

The I.G. is conducting its investigation. And I am not going to comment on their specific findings prematurely. So we’ll wait and see what exactly all the details and the facts are. But I’ve got no patience with it. I will not tolerate it. And we will make sure that we find out exactly what happened on this.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Lawmakers from both parties also demanded answers. On Sunday, Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine told CNN that she doubts the misconduct was limited to low-level IRS staffers.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS, R-Maine: I just don’t buy that this was a couple of rogue IRS employees. After all, groups with progressive in their names were not targeted similarly. There’s evidence that higher-level supervisors were aware of this. And the IRS wasn’t forthcoming in telling Congress about the problem.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio went further. In a letter to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew today, he called for the resignation of acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller.

The Senate’s Democratic majority leader, Harry Reid, also spoke out.

SEN. HARRY REID, D-Nev.: The alleged actions of IRS employees in the Cincinnati field office would be a terrible breach of the public’s trust. Whether investigating conservative groups or liberal groups, they should not be involved in this. Targeting any group based on its political stance is completely inappropriate.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The chair of the Senate Finance Committee, Montana Democrat Max Baucus, has said his panel will look into the matter. And two Republican committee chairs in the House also have vowed to investigate.