WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama said Monday he will not tolerate political bias at the Internal Revenue Service and promised to get to the bottom of the agency's admitted targeting of conservative groups.
Obama, in his first comments on the revelations of political targeting at the tax agency, said he learned about them from the initial news reports Friday. With a growing list of congressional panels saying they will investigate the matter, Obama said people are properly concerned.
"You don't want the IRS ever being perceived to be biased and anything less than neutral in terms of how they operate," Obama said at a news conference Friday with British Prime Minister David Cameron at the White House. He 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," the president added.
On Friday, the IRS apologized for scrutinizing the tax-exempt status of groups with conservative titles such as "Tea Party" or "Patriot" in their applications. 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, R-Maine. "After all, groups with `progressive' in their names were not targeted similarly."
If it were just a small number of employees, she said, "then you would think that the high-level IRS supervisors would have rushed to make this public, fired the employees involved, apologized to the American people and informed Congress. None of that happened in a timely way."
The IRS said Friday that it was sorry for what it called the "inappropriate" targeting of the conservative groups during the 2012 election to see if they were violating their tax-exempt status. The agency said no high-level officials were aware.
But according to a draft of a watchdog's report obtained Saturday by The Associated Press that seemingly contradicts public statements by the IRS commissioner, senior IRS officials knew agents were targeting tea party groups as early as 2011.
Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., said the Finance Committee that he chairs will investigate the matter, the first in the Democratic-controlled Senate to announce an investigation. In the GOP-controlled House, the Ways and Means Committee and the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, also are investigating.
The Treasury Department's inspector general for tax administration is expected to release the results of its nearly yearlong investigation in the coming week.