WASHINGTON, (UPI) — The White House must make clear if it played any role in the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative groups, the top Republican U.S. senator said.
“What we don’t know at this point is whether it jumped the fence from the IRS to the White House,” Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor.
“But we do know this: We can’t count on the administration to be forthcoming about the details of this scandal — because so far they’ve been anything but.”
He called on President Barack Obama “to make available, completely and without restriction, everyone who can answer the questions we have as to what was going on at the IRS, who knew about it, and how high it went.
“No stonewalling, no more incomplete answers, no more misleading responses, no holding back witnesses, no matter how senior their current or former positions. We need full transparency and cooperation,” McConnell said Tuesday.
“Clearly, we’ve only started to scratch the surface of this scandal.”
Two bipartisan Senate panels — the Finance Committee and the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations — have announced plans for investigations.
The House Ways and Means Committee scheduled the first hearing on the matter Friday, grilling acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller, the committee said.
Obama said in a statement Tuesday night the findings of an inspector general’s report issued earlier in the day were “intolerable and inexcusable.”
The audit by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration blamed ineffective IRS management for the failure to stop employees from singling out conservative groups for added scrutiny.
“The federal government must conduct itself in a way that’s worthy of the public’s trust, and that’s especially true for the IRS,” Obama said in his statement. “This report shows that some of its employees failed that test.”
Obama said he directed Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew “to hold those responsible for these failures accountable, and to make sure that each of the inspector general’s recommendations are implemented quickly.”
The TIGTA report said the IRS mismanagement allowed for conservative groups to be singled out by permitting the use of “inappropriate criteria” for more than 18 months, starting in 2010.
These criteria let the IRS target groups such as those with “Tea Party,” “patriot” or “9/12″ in their names, the report said, but it also let the agency gather unnecessary and intrusive information like donor lists.
It also resulted in “substantial delays” in targeted groups’ applications for tax-exempt status as 501(c)(4) “social welfare” organizations or as 501(c)(3) charitable groups, the report said.
A 501(c)(4) group can participate in political campaigns and elections as long as its primary activity is the promotion of social welfare. Contributions are usually not tax-deductible as charitable contributions for U.S. federal income-tax purposes.
A 501(c)(3) group is prohibited from supporting political candidates and is subject to strict lobbying limits. Most contributions are deductible as charitable for federal income-tax purposes.
The IRS acknowledged Tuesday night “inappropriate shortcuts were used to determine which cases may be engaging in political activities.”
But it said it had a responsibility to make sure such organizations did not engage in impermissible political actions, and said other organizations besides conservative groups were also scrutinized.
“There was no intent to hide this issue,” the IRS added, explaining it said little until Tuesday night because it was waiting for the inspector general’s report.
Attorney General Eric Holder said Tuesday his department and the FBI would investigate whether IRS officials broke any criminal laws by singling out the conservative groups.
“The FBI is coordinating with the Justice Department to see if any laws were broken in connection with those matters related to the IRS,” Holder told reporters. “Those were, I think, as everyone can agree, if not criminal, they were certainly outrageous and unacceptable, but we are examining the facts to see if there were criminal violations.”