President Barack Obama said Wednesday that he was "angry" at IRS officials who inappropriately targeted conservative groups for scrutiny, announcing that his administration had sought and accepted Steven Miller's resignation as interim commissioner of the IRS.
"I've reviewed the Treasury Department watchdog's report, and the misconduct that it uncovered was inexcusable," Obama said in a statement at the White House. "It's inexcusable, and Americans are right to be angry about it, and I'm angry about it." The president said that he expected the IRS to act with even higher levels of integrity than other government agencies and that, to that end, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew had sought and accepted Miller's resignation — something many Republicans had demanded.
Obama also pledged to work with Congress in its emerging investigation into the controversy, pledging his administration would work "hand in hand with Congress" to further its oversight. But the president also cautioned lawmakers to conduct their probe "in a way that doesn't smack of politics or partisan agendas."
"If the President is as concerned about this issue as he claims, he'll work openly and transparently with Congress to get to the bottom of the scandal — no stonewalling, no half-answers, no withholding of witnesses," the top Republican senator, Kentucky's Mitch McConnell, said in a statement.
The president said as well that he thought the problems at the IRS were "fixable," and he directed Lew to implement the IRS inspector general's recommendations.
Lew said in a statement that it was "clear that the IRS needs new leadership to restore public trust and confidence."
"As the president noted, this type of misconduct at any agency, but especially the IRS, is inexcusable and unacceptable. And I will not tolerate it," he said.In an internal email to employees, Miller said he would be staying on until early June to help with an orderly transition.
Obama's remarks came amid news that two IRS employees who had engaged in activities targeting conservative groups had faced disciplinary action for their conduct.
The inspector general's release Monday found that incompetence and ineffective management at the tax-collecting agency led to employees' applying extra scrutiny to conservative and Tea Party advocacy groups. The report also found there was no evidence of outside pressure on officials to target conservative groups.
Still, the revelation has prompted an uproar among Republicans, who have openly suggested that the Obama administration might have used the IRS to target its political opponents.
"My question isn't about who's going to resign," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said at a weekly press conference on Capitol Hill. "My question is who's going to jail in this scandal."
Democrats have largely joined their Republican colleagues in expressing outrage toward the IRS employees' actions, and Obama himself condemned the agency Monday, calling the targeting of conservative groups "outrageous" and vowing to hold those responsible accountable.
"I'll do everything in my power to make sure that nothing like this ever happens again, by holding the responsible parties accountable, by putting in place new checks and new safeguards, and, going forward, my making sure the law is applied as it should be — in a fair and impartial way," Obama said.