White House spokesman Jay Carney attempted again Wednesday to distance President Barack Obama from the alleged politically motivated actions of IRS employees exposed in a long-awaited inspector general report.
The report revealed that IRS employees in Cincinnati, Ohio, paid particular attention to tax-exempt applications from groups with the terms "tea party," "9/12" or "patriots" in their names.
Carney repeatedly condemned the IRS workers' alleged profiling of conservative groups during a Wednesday press briefing, saying Obama "feels passionately" about reassuring Americans that the IRS enforces tax policies in a "fair and impartial and neutral" manner.
Any government employee found by the Justice Department to have committed crimes should face "consequences" and "punishment" for their actions, Carney said. He declined to endorse specific punishments, such as jail time.
"The president is impatient with people who do not hold themselves to the standards" he expects, Carney said. "There has to be impatience," he said, "and the president has that kind of impatience."
According to Carney, Obama "is concerned that that kind of conduct can undermine people's faith in the IRS in particular, and the central notion that the IRS enforces our tax laws in a neutral and fair way."
The IRS's Determinations Unit in Cincinnati, the inspector general report notes, "is responsible for reviewing applications as they are received" to determine if groups qualify for tax-exempt status.
"By July 2010, Determinations Unit management stated that it had requested its specialists to be on the lookout for Tea Party applications," according to the report. "[B]y June 2011, the expanded criteria included additional names (Patriots and 9/12 Project) as well as policy positions espoused by organizations in their applications."
One-in-three potential political applications given special scrutiny included one of the three terms, the report says. "[A]ll cases with Tea Party, Patriots, or 9/12 in their names were forwarded to the team of specialists" between May 2010 and May 2012, the inspector general found.
A June 2011 briefing cited by the report indicates that in addition to the flagged terms, the IRS singled out groups whose policy focuses include "government spending, government debt or taxes" or "[e]ducation of the public by advocacy/lobbying to 'make America a better place to live'" or groups that "criticize how the country is being run."
The inspector general's report condemned the criteria for reviewing tax-exempt applications.
"Criteria for selecting applications for the team of specialists should focus on the activities of the organizations and whether they fulfill the requirements of the law," the report said. "Using the names or policy positions of organizations is not an appropriate basis for identifying applications for review by the team of specialists."
In a letter sent to Obama Tuesday, conservative religious leader Franklin Graham disclosed that two organizations he leads - Samaritan's Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelical Association - were notified in September 2012 that the IRS would review their tax-exempt status, which he wrote was evidence of the IRS "profiling" religious charities as well.
House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, suggested stiff punishment Wednesday for the IRS employees involved. "My question is, who's going to jail?" he said at a press conference.
The report was unveiled after a steady drumbeat of press reports offering glimpses of its content. It was released at a time of intense scrutiny for the Obama administration, which is also the subject of an uproar over the Justice Department seizing phone records from The Associated Press in a government-leak probe and questions from Republicans about why the administration made several edits to talking points about the September 11, 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya.