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The Internal Revenue Service is now claiming two “rogue” employees in the agency’s Cincinnati office are responsible for “overly aggressive” handling of requests by conservative groups for tax-exempt status, CNN is reporting.
A congressional source told the cable network that in a meeting on Capitol Hill, acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller described the employees as being “off the reservation,” but it wasn’t clear what the alleged behavior involved.
Another source familiar with Miller’s discussions with congressional investigators says those rogue staffers have already been disciplined.
Miller reportedly stressed the problem with IRS handling of tax-exempt status for tea-party groups was not limited to these two employees.
Later in the day Wednesday, Miller was in effect fired from his post when asked to resign by Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., sounded incredulous at the suggestion high management at the IRS was not aware of the violations.
"Those responsible need to be punished. It's hard for me to believe this was just a bunch of low-ranking apparatchiks that have been doing this," McCain told Fox News.
"The tea parties are grassroots organizations, they're not big lobbying outfits here in Washington, they're not well funded. And of course they're the most easily intimidated. So this is particularly egregious," he added.
On Wednesday, Republican leaders in Congress wasted no time accusing the Obama 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.
Speaker of the House John Boehner got more precise, asking, "My question is who's going to jail over this scandal?"
Boehner says "clearly someone violated the law" in delaying applications from groups which lean to the political right.
Attorney General Eric Holder has already ordered a criminal probe into the matter, and said Wednesday at a congressional hearing the investigation will examine what took place at IRS offices nationwide, not just in Cincinnati.
"The facts will take us whereever they take us," Holder said.
All 45 Republicans in the Senate have sent a letter to the White House demanding the administration "comply with all requests related to congressional inquiries without any delay."
The message 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."