Hurrying to check a growing controversy, President Barack Obama ousted the acting commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service late Wednesday amid an outcry over revelations that the agency had improperly targeted tea party groups for scrutiny when they filed for tax-exempt status.
Obama said Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew had asked for and accepted Steven Miller’s resignation. Obama made no public criticism of Miller but spoke of inexcusable “misconduct” by IRS employees and said new leadership at the agency was critical.
“Americans are right to be angry about it, and I am angry about it,” Obama said in a televised statement from the White House. “I will not tolerate this kind of behavior in any agency but especially in the IRS, given the power that it has and the reach that it has into all of our lives.”
Miller’s ouster came five days after an IRS supervisor publicly revealed that agents had improperly targeted groups with “tea party” or “patriots” in their applications for tax exempt status. It came a day after an inspector general’s report blamed ineffective management in Washington for allowing it to happen for more than 18 months.
The report said tea party groups were asked inappropriate questions about their donors, their political affiliations and their positions on political issues, resulting in delays averaging nearing two years for applications to be processed.
Miller’s departure hardly ends the matter. Three congressional committees are investigating, and the FBI is looking into potential civil rights violations at the IRS, Attorney General Eric Holder said earlier Wednesday.
Other potential crimes include making false statements to authorities and violating the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from engaging in some partisan political activities, Holder said.
Miller, a 25-year IRS veteran, took over the agency in November when the five-year term of Commissioner Douglas Shulman ended. Shulman was appointed by President George W. Bush.
Obama has yet to nominate a permanent successor. A new acting commissioner was not announced Wednesday evening.