President Obama has announced the ouster of Steven Miller, the acting commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, as the administration is embroiled in controversy for targeting conservative and tea-party groups.
"Today, Secretary [Jacob] Lew took the first step by requesting and accepting the resignation of the acting commissioner of the IRS, because given the controversy surrounding this audit, it's important to institute new leadership that can help restore confidence going forward," Obama said during a Wednesday evening broadcast from the White House.
"I've reviewed the Treasury Department watchdog's report, and the misconduct that it uncovered is inexcusable. It's inexcusable, and Americans are right to be angry about it, and I am angry about it. I will not tolerate this kind of behavior in any agency, but especially in the IRS, given the power that it has and the reach that it has into all of our lives."
"As I said earlier, it should not matter what political stripe you're from, the fact of the matter is that the IRS has to operate with absolute integrity."
"I'll do everything in my power to make sure nothing like this ever happens again," the president added.
While Obama claims Miller was asked to resign and did so, the Daily Mail reports that in an email to IRS employees, Miller claimed he would only be leaving next month because his assignment was finished.
"It is with regret that I will be departing from the IRS as my acting assignment ends in early June," Miller wrote. "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."
Earlier Wednesday, White House press secretary Jay Carney said Obama "expects the Treasury Department and IRS to take all the necessary actions to make sure this kind of thing cannot happen again," Carney said. "And he insists this happen, because it is of the utmost importance in the president's mind that people understand and believe that the IRS applies our tax laws in a neutral and fair way to everyone."
The White House has come under intense fire since the IRS admitted Friday it had improperly put holds on the applications of tea-party groups.
Attorney General Eric Holder told a congressional committee the criminal inquiry would be a national investigation, and not limited to the Cincinnati office where the tea-party targeting originated.
The IRS 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, according to CNN.
A congressional source told the cable network that in a meeting on Capitol Hill before Miller's resignation, 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.
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."