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 T. 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.”
Meanwhile, the FBI is investigating 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.
In an email to employees, Miller said, “This has been an incredibly difficult time for the IRS given the events of the past few days, and there is a strong and immediate need to restore public trust in the nation’s tax agency. I believe the Service will benefit from having a new acting commissioner in place during this challenging period.”
At the time when tea-party groups were targeted, Miller was a deputy commissioner who oversaw the division that dealt with tax-exempt organizations.
An inspector general’s report does not indicate that Miller knew conservative groups were being targeted until after the practice ended. But documents show that Miller repeatedly failed to tell Congress that tea-party groups were being targeted, even after he had been briefed on the matter.
The IRS said Miller was first informed May, 3, 2012, that applications for tax-exempt status by tea-party groups were inappropriately singled out.
Miller was scheduled to testify Friday at a Ways and Means hearing.
It was not immediately clear whether he’d still testify.