File(Photo: Mark Wilson, Getty Images)
by Aamer Madhani, Kevin Johnson and Gregory Korte, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON - President Obama said on Wednesday that he's accepted the resignation of acting IRS commissioner Steven Miller in the aftermath of revelations that agency officials were putting extra scrutiny on Tea Party groups' applications for tax-exempt status.
In brief comments Wednesday evening after discussing the Internal Revenue Service controversy with Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Deputy Secretary Neal Wolin, Obama vowed to take decisive action to ensure that the situation would not be repeated.
Obama called the misconduct by IRS officials "inexcusable."
"It's inexcusable and Americans are right to be angry about it and I am angry about it," Obama said. "I will not tolerate this kind of behavior in any agency, but particularly the IRS given the power that it has and the reach that it has in all of our lives."
Obama said that Lew requested and accepted Miller's resignation earlier on Wednesday.
"Given the controversy surrounding this audit, it's important to institute new leadership that can help restore confidence going forward," Obama said.
Obama said his administration would work "hand-in-hand" with Congress as it performs its oversight role.
In an op-ed in USA TODAY earlier this week, Miller said the agency recognized its missteps.
"Mistakes were made, but they were in no way due to any political or partisan motivation," Miller wrote. "We are - and will continue to be - dedicated to reviewing all applications for tax-exempt status in an impartial manner."
In a three-sentence letter to Miller calling for his resignation, Lew said it was imperative to restore public trust and confidence in the IRS.
"While I very much appreciate your years of loyal service at the IRS, I find it necessary at this time to request your resignation," Lew wrote. "We will work with you to make that we accomplish an orderly transition."
In a message to IRS staff on Wednesday announcing his exit, Miller said he would depart the agency in early June.
"It is with regret that I will be departing from the IRS as my acting assignment ends in early June. 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 wrote. "I believe the Service will benefit from having a new Acting Commissioner in place during this challenging period."
The White House has come under fire since the IRS acknowledged last week that it had improperly put holds on Tea Party groups' applications.The criticism from top GOP officials continued on Wednesday after Obama announced Miller's ouster and promised cooperation with Congress on investigating the matter.
"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," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. "These allegations are serious - that there was an effort to bring the power of the federal government to bear on those the administration disagreed with, in the middle of a heated national election. We are determined to get answers, and to ensure that this type of intimidation never happens again at the IRS or any other agency."
Attorney General Eric Holder told a congressional committee on Wednesday that the criminal inquiry would be a national investigation, and not limited to the Cincinnati office where the Tea Party targeting originated.
Holder said potential violations of law could include criminal civil rights laws and the Hatch Act, which prohibits partisan political activity by federal civil servants.
But the attorney general also noted that the IRS has a responsibility to scrutinize applicants for tax-exempt status to ensure they're following the law. "I think some inquiry into that area is appropriate, but it has to be done in a way that does not depend on the political persuasion of the group," Holder said.
An inspector general's report on the agency's action published Tuesday blamed ineffective Internal Revenue Service management for the failure to stop employees from singling out conservative groups for extra scrutiny.
"I will do everything in my power to make sure nothing like this happens again, " Obama said.