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IRS tea party scandal unlikely to fade as Congress plans investigations

The IRS has apologized for targeting tea party groups. But that hasn’t satisfied critics pushing for congressional investigations, and they're still waiting for President Obama to speak out.

By Staff writer / May 12, 2013

The Internal Revenue Service building in Washington. The agency has apologized for targeting tea party groups for special scrutiny of their tax status. Lawmakers promise investigative hearings.

Susan Walsh/AP

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Conspiracy theories aside, there’s no evidence that the Obama White House had anything to do with Internal Revenue Service (IRS) bureaucrats targeting tea party-type organizations for special tax scrutiny.

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That’s despite new information that senior IRS officials knew agents were targeting such groups as early as 2011, according to a draft of an inspector general's report obtained by The Associated Press that seems to contradict public statements by the IRS commissioner.

Still, as Time political columnist Joe Klein writes this weekend, “the absence of scandal is not the presence of competence.”

“Yet again, we have an example of Democrats simply not managing the government properly and with discipline,” Mr. Klein writes. “This is just poisonous at a time of skepticism about the efficacy of government…. [Obama’s] unwillingness to concentrate – and I mean concentrate obsessively – on making sure that government is managed efficiently will be part of his legacy.”

 
So far, the White House response seems a bit anemic, a bit hands-off. On Saturday, Press Secretary Jay Carney said the president believes government agencies should be staffed with "the very best public servants with the highest levels of integrity.”

The president “is concerned that the conduct of a small number of Internal Revenue Service employees may have fallen short of that standard,” Mr. Carney said.

Given what’s been revealed in the inspector general’s report, such statements likely will not quell the criticism.

“It is absolutely chilling that the IRS was singling out conservative groups for extra review,” US Sen. Susan Collins (R) of Maine said on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday.

“The president needs to make crystal clear that this is totally unacceptable in America,” she said. “I think that it's very disappointing that the president hasn't personally condemned this and spoken out.”

As first reported by the AP, in June 2011, Lois Lerner, who heads the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt organizations, learned at a meeting that groups with "tea party," ''patriot" or "9/12 project" in their names were being flagged for additional and often burdensome scrutiny.

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