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Obama: IRS actions 'outrageous' and people will be 'fully accountable'

May 13, 2013 at 1:29 PM   |   Comments

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WASHINGTON, May 13 (UPI) -- President Obama said Internal Revenue Service targeting of conservative groups had "no place" in government.

"This is pretty straightforward," Obama said Monday during a joint news conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron. "If in fact IRS personnel engaged in the kinds of practices that's been reported on, and intentionally targeting conservative [groups], that's outrageous and there's no place for it."

"They have to be held fully accountable," he said.

The American public must have "absolute confidence" that laws are being administered in a non-partisan way.

"We don't want the IRS being perceived as biased or anything less than neutral in how they operate," he said.

He said he did not want to comment on any specific finding because the inspector general was conducting an investigation.

"But if you've got an IRS operating in anything less than a neutral, non-partisan manner, then it is outrageous ... and people have to be held accountable ... ."

U.S. Internal Revenue Service inquiry of conservative groups included those lobbying to "make America a better place to live," new details emerging about the IRS investigation indicated. That lever goes beyond what the IRS admitted Friday, which was that it targeted groups with "Tea Party" or "patriot" in their names, several media outlets reported Monday, based on draft findings from disclosures to congressional investigators by the Treasury Department's inspector general for tax administration.

The audit follows complaints last year by numerous Tea Party and other conservative groups they had been singled out and subjected to extreme and improper questioning. Many groups say they were asked for donor lists and other sensitive information.

Lois Lerner, head of the IRS tax-exempt-organizations division, said Friday the agency was "apologetic" for "absolutely inappropriate" actions by lower-level workers.

Obama said he learned about the matter Friday.

The full report by Treasury Department's inspector general for tax administration is to be released this week.

At various points over the past two years, the Cincinnati IRS office, which is in charge of evaluating applications for tax-exempt status, focused on groups making statements that "criticize how the country is being run" and those involved in educating Americans "on the Constitution and Bill of Rights," the draft report cited by The Washington Post indicated.

By June 2011 some IRS specialists were probing applications of groups focusing on "government spending, government debt or taxes [and] education of the public by advocacy/lobbying to 'make America a better place to live,'" the report cited by the Journal indicated.

The inspector general's investigation also found the head of the IRS tax-exempt-organizations division knew as early as June 2011 conservative groups were being inappropriately targeted -- several months before Douglas Shulman, IRS commissioner at the time, denied to a congressional committee the agency was targeting conservative groups, the newspapers said.

The findings don't make clear who came up with the idea to give extra scrutiny to certain conservative groups, The Wall Street Journal said.

But a government official told the Journal the final report will say IRS officials told investigators no one outside the IRS was involved in developing the profiling criteria.

The audit follows complaints last year by numerous Tea Party and other conservative groups they had been singled out and subjected to extreme and improper questioning.

Many groups say they were asked for donor lists and other sensitive information.

Lerner was briefed on the effort in June 2011, the newspapers said. On Friday she said she learned of the profiling effort from news reports.

The New York Times said the audit indicates Lerner seemed to work hard to switch the focus from conservatives to all types of political advocacy groups.

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