CBS News
May 15, 2013

GOP senators demand Obama, administration cooperate in IRS probe

Grieving a Treasury inspector general report showing that the Internal Revenue Service singled out for excessive review conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status, all 45 Republican senators Wednesday demanded in a letter to President Obama utmost cooperation in upcoming probes "so that the public has a full accounting of these actions."

The letter, spearheaded by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah - ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee - asks the administration to "comply with all requests related to Congressional inquiries without any delay, including making available all IRS employees involved in designing and implementing these prohibited political screenings."

According to a timeline released in a report by a Treasury Department inspector general, the IRS in the spring of 2010 began targeting groups with keywords like "Tea Party," "Patriot" and "9/12 Project" in their names to flag for heightened, typically burdensome, scrutiny. Though the agency insisted last week no high-level employees were aware of the targeting, the inspector general report showed that Lois Lerner - an IRS official in charge of oversight of tax-exempt groups - knew about it as early as June 2011.

Lerner allegedly became aware of the targeting during a meeting two summers ago - 10 months before penning an April 2012 letter to House Oversight Committee chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., assuring him the rigorous scrutiny some conservative groups had complained about was "in the ordinary course of the application process" for nonprofit groups seeking tax exemption. One month earlier, in March 2012, then-IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman told a congressional panel: "There's absolutely no targeting."

In their letter, the Senate Republicans specifically noted Steven Miller, the acting IRS commissioner, who they say told them in 2012 there was "an unbiased, technical screening process used to determine which applications for 501(c)(4) organizations merited further review." In two separate letters to Hatch, they continued, "Mr. Miller failed to note that explicitly political screens were used in reviewing applications, despite the fact the practice was apparently well known within the IRS as early as 2010."

Obama spokesman Jay Carney on Wednesday insisted no one within the White House was aware of the IRS's targeting practice, and said Mr. Obama will discuss the "inappropriate" activity later in the day with Treasury Department officials. But "without this information becoming public" for two years, the senators tell the president in their letter, "there is no evidence that your administration would have done anything to make sure these abuses were brought to light and dealt with in a transparent way."

"This type of purely political scrutiny being conducted by an Executive Branch Agency is yet another completely inexcusable attempt to chill the speech of political opponents and those who would question their government," the GOP senators say, "consistent with a broader pattern of intimidation by arms of your administration to silence political dissent."

House Ways and Means Committee chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., will lead a hearing on the issue Friday.

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