Republicans Demand Action, Jail Time for Those Responsible for IRS Scandal

Republicans stepped up demands for action against the IRS for targeting conservative political groups, the day after the Treasury Department released a report saying the IRS used inappropriate criteria in assessing tax-exempt status. Gwen Ifill reports on Attorney General Eric Holder's testimony in a House Judiciary hearing.


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GWEN IFILL: Twin political storms gathered more force today over potential misdeeds at the IRS and the seizure of reporters' phone records.

The attorney general faced questions before the House Judiciary Committee, and the administration came under new criticism.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio: Now, my question isn't about who's going to resign. My question is, who is going to jail over this scandal?

GWEN IFILL: House Speaker John Boehner led the way this morning, as Republicans stepped up demands for action in the scandal at the Internal Revenue Service.

JOHN BOEHNER: There are laws in place to prevent this type of abuse. Someone made a conscious decision to harass and to hold up these requests for tax-exempt status.

GWEN IFILL: That followed last night's release of a report from a Treasury Department's inspector general. It found “the IRS used inappropriate criteria that identified for review tea party and other organizations applying for tax-exempt status based upon their names or policy positions.”

And there was more. USA Today reported that during the same period, the IRS approved perhaps dozens of applications from similar liberal and progressive groups.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-Ky.: Mr. President ...

GWEN IFILL: On the Senate floor, Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell pressed the White House to make sure the IRS cooperates fully with congressional investigators.

MITCH MCCONNELL: These allegations are very 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. It actually could be, could be criminal. And we're determined to get the answers.

GWEN IFILL: McConnell and the other 44 Republicans in the Senate signed a letter to President Obama demanding full compliance.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said today the president is committed to getting to the bottom of what happened.

JAY CARNEY, White House Press Secretary: He expects people to be held accountable if they engaged in inappropriate activity, inappropriate conduct. He expects the Treasury Department and the IRS to take all the necessary actions to ensure that this kind of thing cannot happen again.

GWEN IFILL: Attorney General Eric Holder has already begun a criminal investigation into the IRS matter, but some lawmakers see larger patterns at work.

Republican Congressman Steve Chabot of Ohio:

REP. STEVE CHABOT, R-Ohio: I believe there has been a pattern by this administration in not taking responsibility for failures, avoiding blame, pointing the fingers in somebody else's direction. Would you agree with that?

ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER, United States: No.

STEVE CHABOT: I thought you might say that. I think a lot of people do, including myself, and I think a lot of members of this committee. And we might be divided, obviously. But these are very significant things which have occurred here. And I would strongly encourage this administration to get out front, get all the facts out, let the chips fall where they may. ERIC HOLDER: I would agree with that last -- the last part of your statement. It is one of the reasons why I ordered the investigation last Friday.

And I can assure you and the American people that we will take a dispassionate view of this. This will not be about parties. This will not be about ideological persuasions. Anybody who has broken the law will be held accountable.

GWEN IFILL: Still, House Republicans have frequently accused Holder of stonewalling their investigations, even citing him for contempt. That bad blood was on sharp display when Holder's leading critic, California Congressman Darrell Issa, complained the department failed to hand over e-mails in another matter involving the Civil Rights Division.

ERIC HOLDER: I will certainly look at the request. It's not something I have personally been involved in, but I will look at the request and try to be as responsive as we can. I'm sure there must have been a good reason why only the to and from parts were provided.

REP. DARRELL ISSA, R-Calif.: Yes, you didn't want us to see the details. Mr. Attorney General, in knowing the to and from -- knowing the to and from ...

ERIC HOLDER: No, no, that's what you typically do. No, I'm not going to stop talking now.

You characterize something as something ...

DARRELL ISSA: Mr. Chairman, would you inform the witness as to the rules of this committee?

ERIC HOLDER: ... that is inappropriate and is too consistent with the way in which you conduct yourself as a member of Congress. It's unacceptable, and it's shameful.

GWEN IFILL: Holder also faced criticism from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle about the Justice Department's decision to subpoena phone records from the Associated Press.

It's part of an investigation into leaks about a failed terror plot last year. The attorney general says he recused himself from the probe early on, because he was one of the officials who had access to the information that was leaked.

Instead, he named his deputy, James Cole, to handle the matter, and Cole, in turn, made the decision to seek the phone records.

California Democrat Zoe Lofgren pressed him on that decision.

ERIC HOLDER: Well, this is both an ongoing matter and an ongoing matter about which I know nothing. So I'm not in a position really to answer that question.

But here's what I do think. I do think that at the conclusion of this matter, and when I can be back involved in it, that given the -- the attention that it has generated, that some kind of after-action analysis would be appropriate.

REP. ZOE LOFGREN, D-Calif.: But it seems to me the damage done to a free press is substantial and will continue until corrective action is taken.

And I would hope that we might be able to further pursue this, Mr. Chairman, and get some clarification on future action either through legislative efforts or through further revision of the code of federal regulation by the administration, because I think this is a very serious matter that I think concerns all of us, no matter our party affiliation.

GWEN IFILL: White House officials, meanwhile, said the administration will support new efforts to pass a media shield law.

And on the IRS scandal, the agency's acting commissioner, Steven Miller, is due to testify before the House Ways and Means Committee Friday.