US President Barack Obama has announced the resignation of the US tax agency's top official, who oversaw an audit that targeted conservative political groups. Obama said the incident had made him angry.
A day after allegations emerged that Internal Revenue Service agents were biased towards investigating conservative groups, Obama announced the resignation of acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller.
Agents screened thousands of nonprofit groups that had applied for tax exempt status, using keywords including "Tea Party" and "Patriot."
The information was released in a report by a government watchdog on Tuesday, which said the practice gave the appearance the IRS was not impartial.
"Americans have a right to be angry about it, and I am angry about it," Obama said on Wednesday afternoon. "I will not tolerate this kind of behavior in any agency, but especially in the IRS."
Obama announced Miller's resignation after meeting with top officials from the Treasury, which oversees the IRS. He said Treasury Secretary Jack Lew had asked for and received the resignation.
The president pledged to work with lawmakers as Congress carries out oversight duties into the matter. He has dismissed attempts by the Republican party to link him to the scandal.
Attorney General Eric Holder has launched a criminal investigation into the incident, labeling the agency's conduct "outrageous and unacceptable," but said he was not certain whether laws had been broken.
The IRS has responded to the report, saying that "inappropriate shortcuts were used" to screen groups for political activity. It has blamed low-level employees in its Ohio office for the unfair practices, but said they were not politically motivated and that senior managers were not aware.
"Who's going to jail?"
The top Republican in the Congress, speaker of the house John Boehner, demanded answers to the IRS incident, as well as a series of other scandals plaguing the Obama administration.
"The IRS has admitted to targeting conservatives," Boehner said. "Now, my question isn't about who is going to resign. My question is, who's going to jail over this scandal?"
Criticism has also grown over the past days over the decision by the Justice Department to seize phone records belonging to reporters at the news agency The Associated Press (AP).
Government officials said on Wednesday the decision to seize the logs was just one part of a wider probe into media leaks from government departments, regarding information about a foiled terror plot in Yemen to bomb a US airliner, two years ago.
Holder has defended the action, saying it part of an investigation into a security breach which had put "the American people at risk."
"The case is really not about the AP, it's about the people who leaked," he told lawmakers.
But it has led to accusations the Obama administration has trampled on press freedoms in its pursuit of goverment leakers. More than 50 media organizations protested the phone record seizure, in a letter released by an organization called the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
The group said the incident "calls into question the very integrity of Department of Justice policies toward the press and its ability to balance...its powers against the [constitutional] First Amendment rights of the news media and the public's interest."
Amid the AP leak controversy, the White House has asked Congress to revive media shield legislation that would protect journalists from having to reveal information.
Benghazi emails released
Also on Wednesday, the White House released around 100 pages of emails on last year's attack on the US diplomatic post in Libya, which killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. The government is seeking to silence Republican claims of a cover-up over the attack, which was at first blamed on the fallout from an anti-Islam video produced in the US. It later emerged organized extremists in Libya were involved.
The emails detail debate between top US officials in several agencies over how to publicly describe the attack. They appear to show the CIA, and not White House or State Department officials, making the final decisions on what information to publicly release, while leaving out key information about possible action by extremists.
General David Petraeus, the CIA director at the time, however, wrote to say he was dissatisfied with the process and suggested that more information should be made public. The September 11, 2012 attack came two months before the US presidential election.
jr/msh (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)