Obama: IRS Political Targeting “Outrageous”

Not surprisingly, President Obama was asked about the unfolding IRS scandal at his joint press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron:

Washington (CNN) – President Obama vowed Monday to hold the Internal Revenue Service accountable if reports of political targeting are proved true.

“If in fact IRS personnel engaged in the kind of practices that have been reported on and were intentionally targeting conservative groups, then that’s outrageous. And there’s no place for it,” Obama told reporters.

“And they have to be held fully accountable. Because the IRS as an independent agency requires absolute integrity, and people have to have confidence that they’re … applying the laws in a nonpartisan way.”

Obama said he learned of the allegations through news reports on Friday.

Documents set to be released this week by the IRS watchdog show that the agency targeted tea party organizations and other groups focused on government spending and the federal debt that were seeking tax-exempt status.

This story isn’t going away anytime soon.

FILED UNDER: Barack Obama, Politicians, Quick Takes, Taxes, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed for too young in July 2021.

Comments

  1. wr says:

    “This story isn’t going away anytime soon.

    Nor is any other story Republicans can use to beat up Obama with. This is some kind of surprise to you?

  2. And Obama is so surprised to hear of this! Ever notice how none of these scandals ever have anything to do with him? This is a president who readily admits to being asleep at the switch. Amazing, just amazing.

  3. @wr:

    Drat, you caught on. IRS auditing of political enemies is nothing but a Republican conspiracy to create an issue to beat up Obama. So it’s really the Republicans behind the IRS’s abuse of power! So they have something to attack Obama with!

    Thanks for enlightening us. Say, how’s that Kool-Aid taste?

  4. C. Clavin says:

    Yes Donald…
    Obama missed these things because he is too busy enginering the UN takeover of the Constitution…per Rand Paul.
    Fools.

  5. Caj says:

    This is one time I disagree with the president. Republicans are only ticked off because it affects groups that back them! They wouldn’t give a flying fig had it been left wing groups being targeted. In fact Darrell Issa would have another investigation all ready to roll! It’s much ado about nothing as usual!!!

  6. Scott says:

    @Donald Sensing: Really? Doesn’t anybody who blogs know anything about principles of management, span of control, organizational behavior? To expect the President (never mind the IRS Commissioner) to know everything that is happening in the various branches, twigs and roots fo government is absurd.

    I will wait to see what the scandal really is but here is my initial thoughts: The volume of tax-exempt applications rose sharply. There was demand for approval even with less resources to process. Staffer in an office took some shortcuts (google-like search screens). They were told about the inappropriateness of the shortcuts and they changed methodology. I doubt there was anything political; just people trying to get a job done.

    Maybe I’m wrong but it sometimes helps to put yourself in the place of ordinary people trying to get their job done. The vast majority of folks who work for the Federal government just want to do a decent job without being demonized.

  7. wr says:

    @Donald Sensing: “IRS auditing of political enemies is nothing but a Republican conspiracy to create an issue to beat up Obama. So it’s really the Republicans behind the IRS’s abuse of power! So they have something to attack Obama with!
    Thanks for enlightening us. Say, how’s that Kool-Aid taste?”

    Please direct me to your many criticisms of the Bush IRS for targeting All Saints Church in Pasadena for the crime of allowing their pastor to give an anti-war sermon. I’d love to see you talking about how outrageous it was that the agency was demanding to see the church’s electric bills to see how many kilowatts they’d used on this.

    Or if you can’t show me a single post criticizing your team for this, then please stop whining self-righteously about your great love for justice and truth. You want to beat up Obama? Knock yourself out. But the flagrant hypocrisy of your self-righteous indignation is beyond tiresome.

  8. An Interested Party says:

    Say, how’s that Kool-Aid taste?

    That’s awfully rich coming from the same person who seems to be outraged that the President is “asleep at the switch” because he didn’t personally know about this scandal from the very beginning…obviously we know how the Koo-Aid tastes to you…

  9. anjin-san says:

    @ Donald Sensing

    So what you are saying is that being taken seriously is not important to you.

    Duly noted.

  10. Jr says:

    @Donald Sensing: Really? Doesn’t anybody who blogs know anything about principles of management, span of control, organizational behavior? To expect the President (never mind the IRS Commissioner) to know everything that is happening in the various branches, twigs and roots fo government is absurd.

    This shouldn’t surprise you.

    Conservatives have always had a simplistic view on how the government and military actually works. Prime example of this is the nonsense some of these dopes were spouting about Benghazi.

  11. Septimius says:

    @wr:

    So, in order to criticize the IRS for improperly targeting Tea Party groups, one must prove that he/she also criticized the IRS 8 years ago for the All Saints Church investigation. Got it.

  12. Surreal American says:

    @Septimius:

    So, in order to criticize the IRS for improperly targeting Tea Party groups, one must prove that he/she also criticized the IRS 8 years ago for the All Saints Church investigation. Got it.

    Well, do you currently think it was wrong back then? If not, why not?

    Be mindful that “Me hate hippies” is not a valid answer

  13. wr says:

    @Septimius: “So, in order to criticize the IRS for improperly targeting Tea Party groups, one must prove that he/she also criticized the IRS 8 years ago for the All Saints Church investigation. Got it. ”

    Nope. Merely to claim that this is anything but a partisan attack.

    If you only care about the IRS targeting organizations based on their politics when it’s your team being targeted, you’re a hack and not worth listening to.

  14. Septimius says:

    @Surreal American: @wr:

    I understand what you’re trying to do here, but it’s not a valid comparison. What triggered the investigation of All Saints Church in 2004 was an overtly political sermon that received significant attention in the news media. It was a very specific allegation in which the pastor criticized George W. Bush by name just days before the election. I don’t think the pastor crossed the line, and I agree with the decision that they kept their tax-exempt status, but it is not unreasonable that the IRS would investigate it.

    What we have now is a completely different situation. There were no specific allegations of against any of these Tea Party groups. They were targeted for extra scrutiny simply because of their name or mission. What’s even worse, though, is that some of the extra scrutiny involved requests that were completely out of bounds even for a legitimate inquiry, like asking for donor lists. That’s just harrassment, plain and simple.

  15. wr says:

    @Septimius: “What we have now is a completely different situation. There were no specific allegations of against any of these Tea Party groups. They were targeted for extra scrutiny simply because of their name or mission. What’s even worse, though, is that some of the extra scrutiny involved requests that were completely out of bounds even for a legitimate inquiry, like asking for donor lists. That’s just harrassment, plain and simple. ”

    Wow, you haven’t read one thing about this “scandal” beyond the headlines, have you? Unlike the All Saints case, where the IRS was trying to revoke the tax exempt status of a church because the pastor had the nerve to criticize a war — while completely ignoring right wing evangelicals who were literally telling their people who to vote for — in this case, the Tea Party groups were applying for a certain kind of non-profit status, and it was these applications that were getting extra scrutiny.

    But thanks for proving that you, like the rest of the idiot Republicans who are screaming over whatever happened in Benghazi while believing it’s in Cuba, have no idea what the hell you’re talking about. Except, of course, that the n***** is behind it.

  16. Craig Davis says:

    @wr: Is the “story” true? Did the IRS abuse its power?

  17. matt bernius says:

    @Septimius, @Surreal American, @wr:
    Actually, there are a LOT of reasons why comparing All Saints Church and this case is apples and oranges:

    1. The case against All Saints Church was a challenge to existing tax exempt status. The current controversy is over organizations *applying* for tax exempt status.

    2. All Saints Church was a 501(c)3 — which is explicitly prevented from political speech. The Tea Party and other groups were applying to be 501(c)4 organizations which have far more latitude for Political Speech. It should be noted that the rules are not particularly well defined for 501(c)4 status (see the second half of this WSJ report for more on this). As a result 501(c)4 applications do tend to get higher scrutiny.

    This definitely needs to be investigated. Right now, until the full report and the list of the 300 investigated organizations is released it’s not worth speculating further.

    What information would be helpful to better understand the full situation is the following:
    1. What % of 501(c)4 Applications in total were made up of Tea Party groups.
    2. What % of total Tea Party applications were subjected to this level of scrutiny.
    3. What type of organizations made up the remaining 225 reviewed groups on the list.
    4. How many of those organizations were tied to liberal and progressive causes.
    5. How many *existing* conservative 501(c)4 organizations were investigated by the IRS.

    There’s a real possibility that, at least on the local level, something went very wrong here.

    But, the more I’m learning, it seems like entirely feasible that this had more to do with a logical level of added review ahead of a Presidential Election. Of course, for this later case to work, we should see a proportional percentage of progressive applications receive higher scrutiny as well.

  18. Septimius says:

    @wr:

    That’s the best you got? Benghazi and the n-word? Good luck with that.

  19. KariQ says:

    Obama is not a stupid man, in spite of Republican arguments to the contrary, and directing (or even indirectly hinting) the IRS to investigate conservative political groups would be a profoundly stupid thing to do. Short of hard evidence that he was aware of and approved such a move, I’m not going to believe it. I feel the same about W. I don’t believe he would have told the IRS to do such a thing, either.

    Obviously, we don’t know enough about what happened at this point, and I have no doubt we will hear about it – endlessly – throughout the summer.

    The GOP finally has something that has the potential to be a real scandal (though Fast & Furious certainly looked like it had potential for a while), so they’d be fools not to drop Benghazi and pursue this avidly.

  20. JKB says:

    @Donald Sensing:

    You can’t expect the President to know what is going on. He’s only got hundreds of political appointees and even czars for everything under the sun. Thousands of senior career civil servants. You can’t expect him to know what some “low-level” IRS employees are doing to undermine the rule of law, faith in government and engage in criminality. And it surely wouldn’t be proper for him or his appointees or senior executive service members to interfere with low-level employees just doing their job until the IG had finished their investigation.

    He’s busy presidentin’. He doesn’t have time to do mundane things like run the Executive branch.

    I’m curious, I was in a sea service and would have been keel hauled for implying I wasn’t responsible for my subordinates, what would they do to you in the Army?

    But it does just go to illustrate that the federal government has become ungovernable. We must reduce it to a more manageable size. Get back to the core responsibilities.

  21. Spartacus says:

    @JKB:

    You can’t expect the President to know what is going on . . . I’m curious, I was in a sea service and would have been keel hauled for implying I wasn’t responsible for my subordinates, what would they do to you in the Army?

    You’ve conflated the issue of whether the President actually knew what was happening with whether the President is responsible for what his subordinates do. And, of course, is a low-level employee at the IRS really a subordinate of the President?

    So, let’s see if there’s any activity actually going on in your little head. Do you or do you not think the President should have known that a low-level employee of the IRS was doing this?

    Secondly, if the IRS is an independent enforcement agency with only 2 political appointees, is this low-level employee really the President’s subordinate?

  22. JKB says:

    @Spartacus:

    Is the IRS an agency of the Judicial Branch? No

    Is the IRS an agency of Congress (Legislative Branch? No

    The IRS is an agency of the Executive Branch. It’s parent department is the Department of Treasury. All employees of the IRS work ultimately for the head of the Executive Branch. The President is the head of the Executive Branch (See US Constitution).

    Now should the President be briefed on every action of the IRS? No. But he is ultimately responsible, as is the Secretary of the Treasury, the IRS commissioners, the SES at the IRS, the mid-level managers at the IRS, etc. “Low-level” employees were violating IRS policy, misusing government resources for partisan political purposes and possibly violating US law. So why didn’t the supervisors discover this? Why wasn’t is stopped immediately upon complaint from those being victimized.

    Who exactly is running this Administration? By all reports, the President, his Secretaries and other political appointees in positions of responsibilities are completely ignorant of what is going on this government they are suppose to be running.

    Has the federal government become ungovernable? Or is governing it just beyond Obama and his selected appointees?

  23. Spartacus says:

    @JKB:
    You wrote a lot of words (mostly irrelevant), but still failed to answer a very simple, straightforward question: Do you or do you not think the President should have known that a low-level employee of the IRS was doing this?

    The IRS is an agency of the Executive Branch. It’s parent department is the Department of Treasury. All employees of the IRS work ultimately for the head of the Executive Branch. The President is the head of the Executive Branch (See US Constitution).

    By this line of “reasoning” GWB was even more responsible for Scooter Libby’s perjuries than Obama is for this low-level employee’s actions since Scooter Libby was a high-level appointee working directly in Bush’s administration. I suspect, however, that you’re able to draw a circuitous line that relieves Bush of that responsibility while holding Obama responsible for the actions of someone he’s never met and couldn’t fire if he tried.

    You’re obviously not capable of recognizing this on your own, so I’ll state it plainly: you’re making a joke of yourself.

  24. JKB says:

    @Spartacus:

    Obama is responsible for not instituting and enforcing sufficient management controls throughout the chain of command to reveal and correct these actions by “low level” employees that were in violation of policy and the fundamentals of Constitutional government. Is he, so far, directly responsible? No. But there is substantial evidence Obama has similar culpability that Henry II had in the death of Thomas Beckett. “Will no one rid me of this turbulent (or meddling) priest?”

    Your example is poor. Obama as the chief of the Executive Branch has a responsibility to ensure the operations of the Executive Branch are conducted appropriately. The IRS actions were done on duty, as part of their official duties while required to act in accordance with IRS policy and regulations.

    But there is no way for the President to know the statements, true or otherwise, an official makes to federal investigators during a criminal investigation. Such statements are privileged and only available to investigators and prosecutors until or defense counsel.

  25. Spartacus says:

    @JKB: Here’s what you sarcastically wrote at first:

    You can’t expect the President to know what is going on. He’s only got hundreds of political appointees and even czars for everything under the sun.

    For a third and final time: Do you or do you not think the President should have known that a low-level employee of the IRS was doing this?

    Obama as the chief of the Executive Branch has a responsibility to ensure the operations of the Executive Branch are conducted appropriately. The IRS actions were done on duty, as part of their official duties while required to act in accordance with IRS policy and regulations.

    So there’s no expectation for the President to implement controls to ensure people working in his own administration just 2 levels below him don’t commit crimes, but you do expect the President to implement controls to ensure people that he can’t even discipline or fire because they are not in his administration don’t do something that isn’t even illegal?

    You’re quite a genius there.

  26. Stonetools says:

    According to JKB’s theory of presidential knowledge, GWB should have known, and been responsible for, the FAA employees who let the 911 terrorists onto the planes ….

  27. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    As others have noted, having political opponents’ confidential documents be leaked/released is an Obama signature move. In 2010, top Obama advisor Austan Goolsbee openly discussed details from the Koch brothers’ tax returns. In 2012, someone leaked confidential tax records of the National Organization for Marriage to the Human Rights Campaign, which showed a Romney donation. Someone leaked the pending application by Crossroads GPS for tax-exempt status to ProPublica, when applications are kept confidential until a decision is made.

    But anyway, Obama Has Spoken. This is “Outrageous.”

    Big whoop. Let’s see just how Obama’s “outrage” expresses itself.

  28. JKB says:

    @Spartacus:

    I do like this new meme that Barack Obama is has not responsibility for the conduct of the Executive Branch of the federal government. In fact he has no real authority over what the unelected, government technocrats and bureaucrats do or say. Very interesting.

    It does provoke the question, in this Constitutional republic, just who is in charge?

    Who can hold the government employees accountable?

    Is their now a fourth branch of government uncontrollable by the Executive, unanswerable to the Legislative and barely acknowledges the Judicial?

    Look at Obama’s statement above.

    And they have to be held fully accountable. Because the IRS as an independent agency …

    That is not the statement of a man who is in charge. Who is aware of his responsibility in overseeing the operation of the federal bureaucracy.

    It is sad that you try to conflate responsibility of the chief Executive with direct personal prior knowledge. It is true, he is unlikely to have known what was going on. But he set the tone of the government for the last 4 years. He drove the immediate culture. We know this because no employee has been disciplined, the behavior was not stepped on hard when discovered and the reported head of the Executive Branch is opining that someone, somewhere go to hold these people accountable.

    If no the “CEO”, then who? And if not, why have a head of the Executive Branch? For his looks? Because if he can’t or won’t oversee the Executive Branch then it sure isn’t for his ability.

  29. george says:

    @JKB:

    So if a Federal employee commits a crime, whoever is acting President should be considered directly responsible? If a Federal employee jay walks, the President should pay a fine, if a Federal employee commits murder the President should do life?

    Since I doubt that’s really what you want, I suggest you’re playing semantics with “responsibility”, trying to use a general connotation to go along with a specialized denotation. A President (or a CEO) isn’t responsible for an underlings crimes in the same way that the underling who actually performed the crime is, though the same word is used for both.

    This isn’t just to protect Obama, it was just as true for Bush, when the IRS went after the All Saints Church, or when guards at Abu Ghraib mistreated prisoners.

  30. anjin-san says:

    @JKB

    Do you realize how much you sound like a dolt who has no clue how a large organization functions in the real world?

    No, of course not…