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GOP conference chair: IRS 'smells of manipulation'

As Congress continues its probe this week into IRS targeting of certain conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status, Republican Sen.

As Congress continues its probe this week into IRS targeting of certain conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status, Republican Sen. John Thune of South Dakota says it's beginning to look like a cover-up within the agency has taken place to mask wrongdoing.

Thune, chairman of the Senate Republican Conference chairman, sits on the Senate Finance Committee, which heard testimony from former IRS commissioner Douglas Shulman Tuesday. On Wednesday, Shulman , outgoing acting IRS chief Steven Miller, and top IRS official Lois Lerner testified before the House Oversight Committee, with Lerner pleading the fifth.

“In May, [Shulman] was made aware of this but it doesn’t seem or appear that that they did anything to stop it," Thune said on Wednesday's The Daily Rundown of Shulman's testimony on Tuesday. "They just kind of allowed the investigation to continue and sort of washed their hands of it, which I think is a big problem. He said he thinks he made the right decision and I think most of the American people would disagree with that.”

Thune said the IRS was trying to shelter themselves rather than share information with the public—and with Congress.

“It seems like they tried to sweep it under the carpet hoping it would go away for as long as possible. And of course in the middle of the season, it would have been very explosive if that had come out," said Thune. "The whole thing smells of manipulation and I think it's really unfortunate—because it’s now unraveled to the point where there a lot of people, a lot of organizations, who got hurt by this. But more importantly, the trust of the American people I think has really been hurt."

On another pressing issue before the Senate—the bipartisan immigration bill that just moved through the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday—Thune sounded like he would opt for bringing the Gang of Eight bill up for a vote, but said he hadn't decided yet on how he'd vote on the final bill.

"[There are] things in the bill they put together I like, and some things I would like to see improve," said Thune.  "We will see what it looks like after we move through."

On the possible GOP primary to fill South Dakota's other Senate seat, with Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson of South Dakota's retirement at the end of his term, Thune said he wasn't yet endorsing a candidate. Former Gov. Mike Rounds is already running—and just hired Thune's former campaign manager Dick Wadhams as his top consultant —while the state's at-large Rep. Kristi Noem, is still mulling a bid. Thune, however, sounded hopeful that a bruising primary could be avoided.

"They both bring things, and we have seen other places where you have a wounded candidate in the fall and a tough general election battle," said Thune. "I think that the key for me is, as much as we can, smooth this out and make sure we have a strong candidate."