Obama Speaks for Four Minutes, Takes No Questions on IRS Scandal
President Barack Obama spent a mere four minutes Wednesday addressing an Inspector General's report that concluded the IRS inappropriately targeted conservative and Tea Party groups.
Obama did not take any questions from reporters; he said he would at a press conference on Thursday. He announced the resignation of an acting IRS Commissioner, Steven Miller, who told colleagues that he was already slated to leave the agency in June.
"It is with regret that I will be departing from the IRS as my acting assignment ends in early June," Miller wrote in an email to colleagues on Wednesday. "This has been an incredibly difficult time for the IRS given the events of the past few days, and there is a strong and immediate need to restore public trust in the nation’s tax agency."
Miller was informed of the IRS's scrutiny of conservative groups in 2012 and failed to report it to Congress.
Obama claimed to have found out about the IRS scandal when the public did, just as he claimed of the news that his Department of Justice collected phone records of AP reporters. Lois Lerner, the IRS official in charge of the division that oversees tax-exempt groups, conceded last Friday that the IRS had targeted groups whose names contained the words "Tea Party" and "Patriots." The White House general council's office had been informed on April 22 that the Inspector General was conducting an audit of the IRS, but the president claimed ignorance regardless.
On Monday, three days after Lerner's apology and admission, Obama still qualified his responses, saying, "if in fact IRS personnel engaged in the kind of practices that have been reported," then he would be upset.
On Tuesday, after the Inspector General released an audit that concluded the IRS used "inappropriate criteria that identified Tea Party and other organizations applying for tax-exempt status based upon their names or policy positions," Obama issued a statement in which he said he would direct Treasury Secretary Jack Lew to hold those responsible to account.
When he finally addressed the nation on Wednesday, Obama said his White House would "work with Congress as it performs its oversight role," though he warned Congress not to engage in activities that would "smack of politics or partisan agendas."
He also said he has instructed Lew to "ensure the IRS begins" to implement the Inspector General's recommendations to prevent such abuse in the future, echoing his Tuesday statement.
He gave a laundry list of what his administration would do--"hold the responsible parties accountable," "understand all the facts," "see how this happened and who is responsible," "institute new leadership that can help restore confidence going forward," "put in place new safeguards to make sure this kind of behavior cannot happen again," and "ensure the IRS begins implementing the [Inspector General's] recommendations right away."
Liberal Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank, who had once been a staunch ally, wrote Obama was an "uninterested" "passerby" in his presidency.
"I will not tolerate this kind of behavior in any agency, but especially in the IRS, given the power that it has and the reach that it has into all of our lives," Obama said. "And as I said earlier, it should not matter what political stripe you’re from — the fact of the matter is, is that the IRS has to operate with absolute integrity. The government generally has to conduct itself in a way that is true to the public trust. That’s especially true for the IRS."