The three-ingredient stew pot of Obama administration controversy got a personal stir this morning from the top Republicans in Congress — both of whom suggested that federal crimes were committed when the IRS targeted conservative groups for special scrutiny.
Separate statements by Speaker John A. Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, just a few minutes apart, suggested a coordinated decision by the GOP leadership to turn up the political pressure on the president as high as possible. It may serve to prevent the White House from shaping the narrative as one in which thorough punitive follow-through will follow the exposure of bad behavior.
"Now, my question isn't about who's going to resign. My question is who's going to jail over this scandal?" Boehner told reporters after the first of two GOP caucus meetings today. "Someone made a conscious decision to harass and hold up these requests for tax exempt status. I think we need to know who they are, whether they violated the law. Clearly someone violated the law."
McConnell was just one notch less emphatic in his suspicions. "If there was an effort to bring the power of the federal government to bear on those that the administration disagreed with in the middle of a heated national election, it actually could be criminal and we're determined to get the answers,” he said on the floor.
He also announced that 40 other GOP senators had joined him on a letter to the president demanding additional disclosures in the case, including regarding an apparent lack of candor about the IRS targeting when some officials were asked about it in congressional testimony more than a year ago.
The GOP leaders are likely to get what they say they’re after. Both spoke the morning after a Treasury inspector general concluded that lax oversight permitted the targeting of groups with conservative-sounding names to be singled out for heightened and extensive review of their applications. Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew said he would follow through on Obama’s orders to fire the people responsible for the "intolerable and inexcusable" conduct.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced that the FBI had started investigating the matter last week to see if the “outrageous and unacceptable” moves were criminal behavior. He’ll be pressed to say more on that score, as well as about his department's seizure of Associated Press phone records as part of a leak investigation, when he testifies this afternoon before the House Judiciary Committee.
Neither Boehner nor McConnell talked about the AP case this morning, but the speaker said he wasn’t backing away from his considerable interest in the kaleidoscope of contradictory information that’s circulated since the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya’s second-biggest city.
That controversy now appears to be slipping quickly into third place among the dust-ups that are dominating Washington. “I don’t want to prolong this any more than anyone else,” Boehner said. “What I want is the truth.”