Washington (CNN) — President Barack Obama vowed Wednesday to hold accountable those at the Internal Revenue Service involved in the targeting of conservative groups applying for federal tax-exempt status, beginning with the resignation of the agency’s acting commissioner.
In a brief statement delivered to reporters at the East Room of the White House, the president announced that Treasury Secretary Jack Lew requested — and accepted — the resignation of acting IRS Commissioner Steve Miller.
The president said the “misconduct” detailed in the IRS Inspector General’s report released Tuesday over the singling out of conservative groups is “inexcusable.”
“Americans have a right to be angry about, and I’m angry about it,” Obama said.
The president said new safeguards will be put in place so that “this doesn’t happen again.”
In an internal message to IRS employees obtained by CNN, Miller said he would be stepping down as commissioner in early June.
“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,” Miller wrote.
“I believe the Service will benefit from having a new Acting Commissioner in place during this challenging period.”
News of the resignation followed revelations that the IRS has identified two “rogue” employees in the agency’s Cincinnati office as being principally responsible for the “overly aggressive” handling of requests by conservative groups for tax-exempt status, a congressional source told CNN.
Miller said the staffers have already been disciplined, according to another source familiar with Miller’s discussions with congressional investigators. The second source said Miller emphasized that the problem with IRS handling of tax-exempt status for tea party groups was not limited to these two employees.
Miller met with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus of Montana on Tuesday to discuss an appearance before Congress.
Asked in a Senate hallway about his meeting with Miller, Baucus told CNN, “I did not learn as much from the meeting as I would have liked.”
“I told him that it was in his best interest to be totally cooperative — that it’s often the coverup that causes more problems than the original malfeasance,” the senator said. “And just to be totally straight with me and everybody, and he said he would.”
Meanwhile, Republican congressional leaders on Wednesday accused Obama’s administration of potentially criminal behavior in the handling of requests for tax-exempt status from conservative groups.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell suggested criminal behavior had occurred, saying that the “very serious” allegations involve “an effort to bring the power of the federal government to bear on those the administration disagreed with in the middle of a heated national election.”
“It actually could be, could be criminal and we are determined to get the answers,” McConnell said.
House Speaker John Boehner was more definitive, declaring that “my question is, who’s going to jail over this scandal?”
He told reporters that “clearly someone violated the law” in what an IRS inspector general’s report described as delayed processing of applications by groups associated with the political right wing.
Attorney General Eric Holder, who ordered a criminal investigation into the situation, said Wednesday at a congressional hearing that the investigation will look at conduct of IRS offices nationwide.
“The facts will take us where ever they take us,” he said.
While the allegations originated in the Cincinnati office, the Justice Department inquiry is based out of Washington, Holder said.
The comments came as all 45 Senate Republicans sent the White House a letter that called for the administration to “comply with all requests related to congressional inquiries without any delay” involving the controversy.
The letter called the scandal “yet another completely inexcusable attempt to chill the speech of political opponents and those who would question their government, consistent with a broader pattern of intimidation by arms of your administration to silence political dissent.”
Meanwhile, GOP Sen. John Thune of South Dakota called Wednesday for the acting commissioner of the IRS to step down.
The clearly coordinated attacks were part of a GOP effort to increase pressure on the Obama administration over the controversy, one of three potential scandals that has the White House on the defensive less than four months into the president’s second term.