WASHINGTON -- President Obama’s spokesman says he is “confident” that no one at the White House knew the IRS was targeting conservative groups until White House lawyers were told of an internal review several weeks ago.
“I can tell you that I am not aware of anyone here knowing about it,” Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, said at a news briefing Tuesday.
Carney was bombarded with questions about the unfolding scandal at the Internal Revenue Service, a federal agency in the Treasury Department that has few political appointees. As he spoke, Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. announced the FBI would investigate whether anyone at the IRS had committed a crime.
Carney said an inspector general for tax administration who was looking into the allegations alerted the White House counsel's office "several weeks ago.” But Carney said the information wasn’t transmitted to him or to the president.
Obama said Monday that he learned of the controversy Friday from news reports. He called it “outrageous” and “contrary to our traditions” if investigators conclude that IRS officials singled out conservative groups for extra scrutiny.
The IRS acknowledged Friday that its staff in Cincinnati had inappropriately targeted groups with the words “tea party” or “patriot” in their names for additional review of their applications for nonprofit tax status.
Despite the IRS admission, Carney on Tuesday urged caution, saying the White House would wait until the inspector general's report is issued this week. He suggested the White House would take some action once the report was public.
“But we need to wait and see ... before we make decisions about how to proceed,” he said.
Carney initially asserted flatly that no one at the White House was involved or had any knowledge of the matter until recently. When pressed on how he could be so certain, he couched the statement.
“I am certainly not aware of and am confident that no one here was involved in this,” he said.
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