Carney downplays IRS political prying, calls it ‘inappropriate’

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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White House spokesman Jay Carney repeatedly said Friday that targeting of Tea Party political groups by the Internal Revenue Service was “inappropriate,” a mild characterization of the apparently illegal use of punitive audits.

AnIRS official admitted Friday that 75 Tea Party groups were hit by IRS investigations between 2010 and 2012, as they were leading protests against the administration.  “It certainly does seem to be, based on what we see, to be inappropriate,” Carney told reporters.

The national coordinator for one of the largest Tea Party organizations used much stronger language.

“People are outraged,” Jenny Beth Martin, national coordinator for Tea Party Patriots, told The Daily Caller. “It is absolutely disgusting what we’ve seen happening with this,” she added.

“It is an abuse of power,” Martin told TheDC. “It seems it was the way the IRS was trying to prevent us from exercising our right to free speech. Congress needs to investigate to see how this could have happened.”

Carney tried to downplay the drama when he spoke to reporters late Friday afternoon at the White House. He described the unprecedented government investigations of political groups as “inappropriate” four times.

Government officials demanded lists of the groups’ donors and required them to provide much additional information, during a period when the groups were leading public protests against the administration’s big-government policies.

“If this activity took place, it is inappropriate,” said Carney, who said the IRS’ Inspector General is conducting an formal investigation of the IRS actions.

An IRS official used the same term.

“That’s absolutely inappropriate and not the way we ought to do things,” said Lois Lerner, an official who manages IRS oversight of tax-exempt groups. But “they didn’t do it out of any political bias,” she insisted.

On Jan. 15, Carney also used the “inappropriate” term to criticize Lance Armstrong’s use of performance-enhancing drugs in cycling races.

“The President feels very strongly that it’s inappropriate to use performance-enhancing drugs,” he said.

The GOP’s votes against a gun-curb measure, he said April 8, “would certainly be inappropriate.”

The GOP’s effort to control federal spending via the sequester “are completely inappropriate to the task and the need here,” he said Feb. 19.

Carney also said that the IRS prying “is a matter of concern.”

On April 15, Carney said the president was “outraged” about an expensive party organized by the General Services Administration. He reused the same term April 17 and April 20 about the GSA spending. On April 9, Carney said the administration was outraged by attacks against civilians in Syria.

Tea party and GOP leaders used much stronger language.

“The Obama administration has used the IRS as a political weapon,” Niger Innis, chief strategist for TheTeaParty.net, wrote in a press release.

“What would Democrats have done if the Nixon administration ordered the IRS to actively target the National Organization of Women or the American Civil Liberties Union?” Innis said. “These activities are eerily similar, and yet Obama remains in office… We would expect intimidation like this from third-world, tin-pot dictators, not our own US government.”

“Chicago-style politics strikes again,” said a statement from Sen. John Thune, chairman of the Senate Republican Conference. “The Obama IRS needs to answer for its harassment of conservative groups,” he added.

Tea Party Patriots’ Martin said she would be equally angry if the IRS were investigating progressive groups.

“If this were happening to any political group today and I found out about it, I would be just as outraged” said Martin.

“This is not about whether people agree with each other,” she said. “It is about whether there will be free speech without approval from elected officials and unelected bureaucrats…and one of the things that the Tea Party has been upset about is the concentration of power.”

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