May 16, 2013

Obama ousts IRS chief over targeting of groups

A visibly angry president says 'I will not tolerate this kind of behavior' and vows to also hold others who were involved accountable.

By MATEA GOLD, JOSEPH TANFANI and MELANIE MASON Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — President Obama forced out the head of the IRS on Wednesday, seeking to restore the public's faith in the tax agency while asserting a measure of control over a rapidly growing political problem.

Today's poll: IRS scandal

Is President Obama doing enough to address the IRS's targeting of conservative groups?

Yes

No

View Results

click image to enlarge

President Barack Obama makes a statement on the Internal Revenue Service's targeting of conservative groups for extra tax scrutiny in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday May 15, 2013. The president spoke after discussing the IRS matter with Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew and his top deputy, Neil Wolin. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Related headlines

A TIMELINE OF IRS SCRUTINY OF CONSERVATIVE GROUPS

A look at events leading to the disclosure that the Internal Revenue Service placed conservative groups under special scrutiny for 18 months before the 2012 elections, a practice that has prompted congressional inquiries and a Justice Department criminal investigation:

2010:

March-April: IRS agents begin giving extra attention to tax-exempt applications from groups associated with the tea party or with a political sounding agenda in their names, such as "Patriots," ''Take Back the Country" or "We the People," according to the IRS inspector general.

August: The first IRS "BOLO" listing – meaning Be on the Lookout – is issued for "various local organizations in the Tea Party movement" that are seeking tax-exempt status.

2011:

June: Lawmakers send the first of at least eight letters asking the IRS to address complaints that conservative groups are being subjected to burdensome screening in their applications for tax-exempt status.

June 29: Lois G. Lerner, in charge of overseeing tax-exempt organizations at the IRS, learns at a meeting that groups are being targeted, according to the inspector general. Lerner is told that groups with "Tea Party," ''Patriot" or "9/12 Project" in their names were being red-flagged. Statements in case files that are critical of the country's leadership or that want to "make America a better place to live" also prompt examination. Lerner directs agents to change the criteria for flagging groups immediately, the inspector general says.

Dec. 16: Despite being briefed about the matter six months earlier, Lerner does not divulge the flagging of conservative groups when she and others from the IRS meet staff members of the House Ways and Means Committee to discuss the issue, according to the staff's timeline of events.

2012:

January: The criteria for screening, altered after Lerner's staff meeting six months earlier, is modified again. Now the IRS is on the lookout for references to the Constitution or Bill of Rights in the materials of organizations seeking tax-exempt status, for "political action type organizations involved in limiting/expanding government," and more.

March 22: IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman tells Congress there is "absolutely no targeting" of groups based on their political views.

May: Lerner does not divulge the flagging in 45-page letters to two lawmakers inquiring about the issue.

May 3: Deputy Commissioner Steven Miller is told by staff that that applications for tax-exempt status by tea party groups were inappropriately singled out for extra scrutiny, according to the agency. (Miller now is acting commissioner.)

June 15: Miller responds to a letter from Rep. Charles Boustany, R-La., who had raised concerns about possible harassment of tea party groups by the IRS. Miller does not concede conservatives had been singled out. He says generally that the IRS is seeing more tax-exempt applications from politically active groups and taking steps to "coordinate the handling of the case to ensure consistency."

July 25: Miller testifies to the House Ways and Means oversight subcommittee but does not divulge what he was told in May about the screening of tea party groups.

Sept. 11: Millers writes a letter responding to Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee but again does not own up to the scrutiny conservatives were placed under. Hatch had written three times to the IRS about the complaints.

Nov. 6: The presidential and congressional elections.

Nov. 15: Lerner and others from the IRS meet Ways and Means staff but again do not acknowledge the targeting.

2013:

Week of April 22: White House counsel learns that the inspector general is finishing a report about the IRS office in Cincinnati, which handles tax-exempt applications, according to White House spokesman Jay Carney.

May 10: Lerner apologizes on behalf of the IRS for "inappropriate" targeting of conservatives; White House counsel is said to receive inspector general's report; President Obama is said to have heard of the matter for the first time. Lerner says no high-level officials were aware of the targeting, a statement seemingly at odds with the timeline of events, and blamed low-level employees in Cincinnati.

May 13: Obama says if the IRS intentionally went after conservatives, that's "outrageous." The Democratic-controlled Senate Finance Committee joins Republican-led House committees in planning fresh investigations of the matter.

May 14: Miller says his agency demonstrated "a lack of sensitivity" in trying to figure out whether organizations claiming a tax exemption met the standard for it. The Justice Department says it will conduct a criminal investigation, the inspector general's report is released, and Obama calls the findings "intolerable and inexcusable."

May 15: In congressional testimony, Attorney General Eric Holder says the FBI's investigation could include potential civil rights violations, false statements and potential violations of the law prohibiting federal employees from engaging in some partisan political activities.

 

Making a hastily scheduled statement at the White House, Obama denounced the targeting of conservative groups by the Internal Revenue Service as "inexcusable" and pledged to "do everything in my power to make sure nothing like this ever happens again."

"Americans are right to be angry about it, and I am angry about it," he said. "I will not tolerate this kind of behavior in any agency, but especially in the IRS, given the power that it has and the reach that it has into all of our lives."

Steven Miller, a tax lawyer and career IRS official, agreed to resign at the request of Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew after coming under fire following revelations that the agency had singled out conservative organizations for special scrutiny. Miller, who has been the acting commissioner since November 2012, will remain at the agency until early June to allow a smooth transition.

Questions mounted about his role this week as it became clear that he had not disclosed the problems to Congress in letters and testimony despite being briefed on it.

Several lawmakers, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., had called for Miller's resignation.

Obama's announcement capped a day of growing furor on Capitol Hill over how IRS agents mishandled applications for tax-exempt status by conservative advocacy groups.

Three congressional committees have scheduled hearings, with Miller set to testify at the first on Friday.

The hearings will build on an audit by a Treasury Department inspector general that found IRS staff in Cincinnati inappropriately flagged conservative organizations, pulling aside applications with keywords such as "tea party" and policy objectives such as "educating on the Constitution and Bill of Rights."

The organizations were seeking recognition as tax-exempt social welfare groups, which are permitted to do a limited amount of political activity, as long as it is not their primary purpose.

The audit concluded that dozens of advocacy groups were forced to answer exhaustive and intrusive questions about their activities and donors. Their applications languished - some for more than three years. The inspector general blamed poor management and a lack of clarity within the IRS about how much political engagement is allowed of such organizations.

Lawmakers on Wednesday said many questions remained, even after the audit. House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, escalated the rhetoric early in the day, telling reporters that his question "isn't about who's going to resign" over the controversy. "My question is, who's going to jail?" he said.

In a statement issued after Miller's resignation, McConnell said, "More than two years after the problem began, and a year after the IRS told us there was no problem, the president is beginning to take action.

"If the president is as concerned about this issue as he claims, he'll work openly and transparently with Congress to get to the bottom of the scandal -- no stonewalling, no half-answers, no withholding of witnesses," he said.

A separate criminal investigation is already under way. Testifying on Capitol Hill, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said the Justice Department investigation would look at possible civil rights violations and false statements.

(Continued on page 2)

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors




Further Discussion

Here at PressHerald.com we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)


Today's poll: IRS scandal

Is President Obama doing enough to address the IRS's targeting of conservative groups?

Yes

No

View Results