May 19 (Bloomberg) -- President Barack Obama will not cooperate in a “partisan fishing expedition” over who knew what and when about revelations that groups seeking tax-exempt status were subject to extra Internal Revenue Service scrutiny.
“We are going to work with Congress, as the president said, in legitimate oversight,” Dan Pfeiffer, a senior adviser to Obama, said today on ABC’s “This Week With George Stephanopoulos” program. “What we’re not going to participate in is a partisan fishing expedition designed to distract from the real issues at hand.”
The controversy over the agency’s selective screening of anti-tax groups has stirred Republican attacks on President Barack Obama and emerged as a distraction to his second-term goals of revising U.S. immigration law and reaching a long-term debt-reduction deal. Pfeiffer, who is also appearing on other television talk shows today, said the White House would cooperate with Congress in probes while urging them to move forward in a bipartisan manner.
Four congressional committees and the Justice Department are investigating the matter. Hearings held next week include one by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee with testimony from Douglas Shulman, the IRS commissioner from March 2008 to November 2012.
The scandal erupted May 10 when Lois Lerner, the IRS’s director of exempt organizations, apologized at a tax conference for singling out certain groups for further examination of their tax-exempt applications. The IRS wrote and planted the question that led to Lerner’s disclosure, Washington lawyer Celia Roady, who asked the question, said in a statement May 17.
The IRS beginning in 2010 used “inappropriate criteria” to identify groups for further review based on their names or policy positions, according to an inspector general’s report released May 14. The groups included Tea Party organizations that want to reduce government spending and regulation.
IRS employees made “foolish mistakes” and provided “horrible customer service” Steven Miller, who’s being forced out as the agency’s acting commissioner, said at a House Ways and Means Committee hearing May 17. Miller insisted that agency employees weren’t driven by partisan motivations.
Obama said May 16 that he’d chosen Danny Werfel, the controller of the White House budget office, to replace Miller as acting IRS commissioner effective May 22.
--With assistance from Richard Rubin in Washington. Editors: Anthony Gnoffo, Gail DeGeorge
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