Obama vows accountability at IRS after targeting

Updated
 President Barack Obama speaks during a joint press conference with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan in the Rose Garden of the White House May 16, 2013....
President Barack Obama speaks during a joint press conference with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan in the Rose Garden of the White House May 16, 2013....
SAUL LOEB

A day before lawmakers plan to conduct their first hearing Friday on the targeting of Tea Party groups by the Internal Revenue Service, President Obama again expressed anger over the episode.

“We will be putting in new leadership that will be able to make sure that we…hold accountable those who have taken these outrageous actions,” Obama said at a news conference Thursday afternoon, adding: “It doesn’t matter whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, you should be equally outraged.”

[Late Update 4:08pm: Obama has appointed Daniel Werfel, the controller of the Office of Management and Budget, to be acting IRS commissioner, the AP reports.] 

Obama also said an independent counsel isn’t needed to probe the targeting. The Justice Department on Tuesday announced a criminal investigation.

Acting commissioner Steven Miller, who resigned Wednesday amid growing concern over the episode, is still set to testify Friday before the House Ways and Means Committee, the panel has said. Miller, who was deputy commissioner during the period at issue, will be joined by IRS Inspector General J. Russell George, whose report, released Tuesday, blamed lax management at the agency for allowing the targeting to take place, based on keyword searches for terms like “Tea Party” and “Patriot.”

Rep. Dave Camp, who chairs the committee, indicated that Miller’s resignation isn’t nearly enough. “This resignation does nothing to change the culture of discrimination at the IRS,” Camp, a Michigan Republican, said in a statement released Thursday morning. “There are still far too many unanswered questions and until we know what truly happened, we cannot fully fix what is wrong.”

The “culture of discrimination” appears to have emerged as a Republican talking point this week.

Sen. Marco Rubio also used the phrase several times Thursday as he sought to link the IRS story to other ongoing headaches for the administration. “This is an administration that has created a culture of intimidation through its campaign, and through the White House and throughout the federal government,” the Florida senator said on Fox News.

A letter sent Tuesday to Miller by Camp and Rep. Sander Levin, the ranking Democrat on the committee, offers a guide to the issues lawmakers may be aiming to zero in on.

Among other questions, it asks why IRS officials failed to tell lawmakers about the targeting despite the ongoing year-long investigation.

Camp and Levin cite appearances before Congress made in 2012 by Miller, by then-IRS commissioner Douglas Shulman, and by Lois Lerner, the director of the agency’s Exempt Organizations division. All three were asked about the IRS’s oversight of political activities (Miller and Shulman were asked specifically about reports that the IRS had targeted conservative groups). None of the three disclosed, then or at any time before last week, that the targeting of conservative groups had occurred.

The letter also asks whether White House or Treasury Department officials were aware of it. But that may prove a less fruitful avenue.

Speculation has centered on whether the Treasury Department’s General Counsel was made aware of the targeting. But George Madison, who served in that role during the period at issue, told msnbc Wednesday it was never brought to his attention, a stance supported by the IRS itself in a statement. And given Treasury’s limited oversight of the IRS, there’s little reason to suggest other Treasury officials would have been made aware.

Nor has any evidence emerged that the White House knew about the targeting. Asked at the Thursday press conference about that issue, Obama suggested he was in the dark until last week, though he did not address whether others at the White house knew.

“I certainly did not know anything about the IG report before the IG report had been leaked through the press,” Obama said.

Obama vows accountability at IRS after targeting

Updated