Republicans open fire on Obama as IRS says sorry

Former IRS chief Steve Miller, right, and treasury colleague J Russell George on Capitol Hill. Picture: Getty
Former IRS chief Steve Miller, right, and treasury colleague J Russell George on Capitol Hill. Picture: Getty
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Barack Obama’s administration has been rife with “cover-ups” and “intimidation”, it was claimed yesterday at an inquiry into practices at the country’s tax collection agency.

Dave Camp, the Michigan congressman chairing the Washington hearing, said the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) policy of giving extra scrutiny to the tax affairs of conservative-leaning groups was indicative of a determined and wide-ranging policy by Mr Obama’s government.

“This appears to be just the latest example of a culture of cover-ups and political intimidation in this administration,” Mr Camp said. “It seems like the truth is hidden from the American people just long enough to make it through an election.”

His inflammatory comments came at the end of a scandal-plagued week for the president. The ousted head of the IRS, Steve Miller, apologised for “horrible customer service” and admitted that the agency had erred in pursuing political organisations with right-wing terms in their names, such as Patriots or Tea Party, which were seeking tax-exempt status.

“Foolish mistakes were made by people trying to be more efficient in their workload selection,” Mr Miller, who resigned on Wednesday, told the hearing.

“[But] I do not believe that partisanship motivated the actions. Partisanship or the perception of politics has no place in the IRS.”

Mr Miller was one of two high-profile casualties at the tax agency this week, the other being Joseph Grant, a previous deputy head of the agency’s unit handling tax exemptions.

It was revealed yesterday that his former chief, Sarah Hall Ingram, was promoted to lead the IRS’s affordable care act division implementing the tax provisions of Mr Obama’s healthcare reforms, further fuelling Republicans’ ire.

“Stunning, just stunning,” Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, said.

Mr Camp, meanwhile, said he doubted that the resignations of the two men, who were reported to be leaving the agency anyway, would change anything.

“Trimming a few branches will not solve the problem when the roots of the tree have gone rotten,” he said.

The IRS scandal was one of three controversies to rock the Obama administration in recent days, in what the Washington Post newspaper described as “the week the dam broke” on the president’s second term of office.

There were accusations that government officials had lied about the cause of the terrorist attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in September that killed the US ambassador and three colleagues. It was also revealed that the Department of Justice had secretly seized the phone records of journalists in an attempt to identify a source leaking classified information.

Mr Obama said he was angered by the IRS policy but denied any knowledge of it, while he tried to distance himself from the analysis of the numerous records from Associated Press reporters and editors by insisting that the White House is not involved in criminal investigations.

White House sources said the president was planning to talk with senior government figures over the weekend and discuss how best to switch the public’s attention back to the stated policy goals of Mr Obama’s final term.