Obama denounces political bias at tax agency

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WASHINGTON (AP)

President Barack Obama said Monday that he didn’t know that the U.S. tax agency had targeted conservative groups until he learned about it from news reports last week. He pledged to find out what happened.

Obama made his first comments on Washington’s latest scandal at a news conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron. Though there is no indication that Obama or White House officials were involved, the issue has energized Republican and could be a further distraction for Obama as he tries to push his political agenda in his second term.

The agency, the Internal Revenue Service, apologized Friday for scrutinizing the tax-exempt status of groups with conservative titles such as “Tea Party” or “Patriot” in their applications. The agency was checking whether they were violating their tax exempt status. It said no high-level officials were aware. But according to a draft of a watchdog’s report obtained Saturday by The Associated Press, senior IRS officials knew agents were targeting tea party groups as early as 2011.

With a growing list of congressional panels saying they will investigate the matter, Obama called the revelations of targeting “outrageous.”

“I’ve got no patience with it. I will not tolerate it, and we will make sure that we find out exactly what happened on this,” Obama said.

Republicans have challenged the tax agency’s claim that the practice was initiated by low-level workers.

“I just don’t buy that this was a couple of rogue IRS employees,” said Sen. Susan Collins, a moderate Republican. “After all, groups with ‘progressive’ in their names were not targeted similarly.”

The Treasury Department’s inspector general for tax administration, an internal watchdog, is expected to release the results of its nearly yearlong investigation in the coming week.

(Copyright 2013 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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