Amid a rapidly escalating crisis for his administration, President Barack Obama Wednesday evening announced that the acting head of the Internal Revenue service has resigned.
Acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller submitted his resignation and Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew accepted it, the president announced at a briefing. Obama added that he and Lew had spent part of the afternoon reviewing a report on targeted audits of conservative nonprofits that was released Tuesday night by the Treasury Department’s inspector general for taxation.
“The IRS has to operate with absolute integrity,” Obama said, adding that the importance of public trust is “especially true” for the tax collector.
The president characterized Miller’s resignation as the first step in an effort to “hold the responsible parties accountable.” Several other IRS officials, including Lois G. Lerner, director of the agency’s tax-exempt organizations department, have achieved notoriety since news broke last week that it had been targeting for extra scrutiny and delays groups with words like “tea party” and “constitution” in their applications for tax-exempt status.
Obama added that he has directed Lew to “follow up on the IG’s report,” and to put safeguards in place in compliance with the report’s recommendations. IRS officials had initially challenged several of the recommendations made by Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration J. Russell George.
Obama’s announcement went beyond rhetorical flourishes by including the real news of a high-level personnel change. Miller is the first executive branch official to be fired in the audit scandal. Nevertheless, Republicans maintained that the dismissal of Miller is not enough.
“Simply allowing the acting-head of the IRS to resign is not enough,” said Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus in a statement. “This is clearly a scapegoat that distracts from answering the core questions from information that has been known within the administration for over a year: Who in the White House knew what and when? If they were aware earlier of improper activity, why wasn’t action taken sooner? The president still owes Americans—especially the targeted groups—an apology. He spent years maligning them. He called some groups ‘tea-baggers’ and said in 2010 he would ‘punish our enemies.’ There’s no denying he created a culture in his administration that encouraged the targeting of these groups. Ultimately, he should take responsibility for what happened and stop avoiding the tough questions.”
U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Obama’s move is not enough.
“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,” McConnell announced. “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. These allegations are serious — that there was an effort to bring the power of the federal government to bear on those the administration disagreed with, in the middle of a heated national election. We are determined to get answers, and to ensure that this type of intimidation never happens again at the IRS or any other agency.”
Obama struck a conciliatory tone in his announcement.
“We will work with Congress as it performs its oversight role,” the president said.
The first hearings on the scandal, before the House Ways and Means Committee, is scheduled for Friday. Miller is slated to testify and has announced that he will not invoke his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination.