The White House had no involvement in any scrutiny of political groups by the Internal Revenue Service and no prior notification of a Justice Department probe of a news organization’s telephone records, President Barack Obama’s spokesman said.
Jay Carney, White House press secretary, said Obama is awaiting a report from an independent inspector general before deciding how to respond to reports that IRS personnel targeted small-government advocacy groups seeking tax exemptions as nonprofit organizations.
“I am certainly not aware and am confident that no one here was involved in this,” Carney said.
Carney also said the White House had no knowledge of the Justice Department’s collection of telephone records from Associated Press reporters and editors. He declined to comment on whether the probe was appropriate, saying it was part of an active investigation.
The White House counsel’s office was informed the week of April 22 that the inspector general was finishing a review, Carney said. Obama learned about the case on May 10, the same day Lois Lerner, the director of the IRS’s Exempt Organizations Division, acknowledged in remarks to a conference of tax lawyers that applications using phrases such as “Tea Party” and “patriot” had been singled out for extra examination.
“We haven’t seen it, we don’t have access to it,” Carney said of the inspector general’s report.
Obama is facing criticism and controversy on three fronts as he tries to make headway on his second-term agenda. Republicans are pushing for more scrutiny of his administration’s handling of the attack on a U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya, while members of both parties are expressing concern about revelations of the actions by the IRS and the Justice Department.
At a White House news conference with U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, yesterday, Obama called accusations that the White House sought to cover up a terrorist link to the Benghazi attack a “sideshow” that “defies logic.”
In the IRS case, in which the agency gave special attention to applications for tax-exempt organizations if they had “tea party” or “patriot” in their name, Obama vowed that those responsible would be held accountable. He called such action “outrageous” if true.
Carney reiterated that today, saying: “If there were specific targeting of conservative groups, that would be wrong and outrageous, and there should be people held accountable for that.”