Obama steps up criticism of IRS targeting

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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President Barack Obama upped his condemnation of the IRS’ investigation of conservative political groups on Monday, three days after his deputies described the targeting as “inappropriate.”

If the agency’s investigations were not politically neutral, Obama told reporters Monday morning, “that’s outrageous, it is contrary to our traditions, people have to be held accountable and it has got to be fixed… I’ve got no patience with it.”

Obama spoke at a press conference with the United Kingdom’s prime minister, David Cameron.

Obama also accepted the anger among conservatives as legitimate. “This is something I think people are properly concerned,” he said.

However, he declined to take immediate action. “The IRS Inspector General is conducting an investigation [and] I’m not going to comment on their specific findings,” he said.

Even some progressives faulted Obama’s response. “I don’t think he could be strong enough,” said progressive journalist David Corn.

The issue is extremely sensitive, in part because all Americans deal with the IRS, and the GOP is united in its willingness to slam the agency.

Moreover, the IRS has been given the important task of enforcing Obama’s still-unpopular redirection of the nation’s health care sector.

The groups reportedly targeted by the IRS include 75 Tea Party organizations, Glen Beck’s 9/11 Project, and Z Street, which opposes Obama’s Middle East policies. Some conservative media outlets have also complained about harassment by the IRS.

So far, no progressive groups have announced they were hit by IRS investigations.

A pending report by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration says high-level IRS officials knew about the targeting in 2011.

For example, Lois Lerner, who runs the IRS’ oversight of tax-exempt groups, learned of the targeting in 2011, well after it began in 2010.

Officials say the targeting was started by low-level inspectors at the IRS’s office in Cincinnati, Ohio.

After Lerner learned of the targeting, the stated triggers for investigations were broadened from groups associated with the Tea Party to include terms that would allow continued targeting of conservative groups.

The broader terms include groups monitoring “government spending,” “government debt” and “education of the public via advocacy/lobbying to ‘make America a better place to live.”

“I first learned about [the IRS targeting] from the same news reports that most people learned about it,” Obama said during the press conference.

“I think it was on Friday.”

“This is completely straightforward,” he said.

“If in fact, IRS personnel engaged in the kinds of practices that have been reported on and have been intentionally targeted conservative groups, that’s outrageous and there’s no place for it.”

“They have to be held fully accountable,” Obama added. “Because the IRS is an independent agency [and must] apply the laws in a nonpartisan way.”

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