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McConnell Decries 'Thuggish' Obama Administration

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 6:04 pm | Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell wants a review of what he's calling "thuggish practices" by the Obama administration, after an IRS official acknowledged that conservative political groups were improperly targeted by the agency.

“Today’s acknowledgment by the Obama administration that the IRS did in fact target conservative groups in the heat of last year’s national election is not enough," the Kentucky Republican said in a statement. "Today, I call on the White House to conduct a transparent, government-wide review aimed at assuring the American people that these thuggish practices are not underway at the IRS or elsewhere in the administration against anyone, regardless of their political views."

Lois G. Lerner, the head of the IRS Exempt Organizations division, disclosed the improper targeting of non-profit groups with terms such as "tea party" and "patriot" in their names at an American Bar Association conference Friday, The Associated Press reported.

In a statement issued in response, the IRS said that errors made by "local career employees in Cincinnati" happened but that they were "in no way due to any political or partisan rationale."

"It is important to recognize that all centralized applications received the same, even-handed treatment, and the majority of cases centralized were not based on a specific name. In addition, new procedures also were implemented last year to ensure that these mistakes won’t be made in the future," the IRS said. "The IRS also stresses that our employees — all career civil servants — will continue to be guided by tax law and not partisan issues."

For more than a year, McConnell and other Republicans have suggested improprieties in IRS actions originating out of Cincinnati, especially those targeting the non-profit status of tea party groups. McConnell's office pointed to a speech that the senator gave at the American Enterprise Institute on the subject last June, along with a Politico opinion piece. Those were just two of several responses by Senate Republicans to the issue.

As Roll Call reported at the time, Finance ranking member Orrin G. Hatch of Utah led 10 other GOP senators in blasting the request in a missive to the IRS.

“Unfortunately, the public release of private donor information exposes citizens to possible harassment and intimidation by those who oppose the goals of the charitable organization,” Hatch and the other senators wrote.

McConnell isn't satisfied with Friday's apology.

"Now more than ever we need to send a clear message to the Obama Administration that the First Amendment is non-negotiable, and that apologies after an election year are not an sufficient response to what we now know took place at the IRS. This kind of political thuggery has absolutely no place in our politics," he said in the statement.

McConnell has always espoused an expansive view of the First Amendment in political speech, leading the effort against the 2002 campaign finance overhaul known as McCain-Feingold, taking his case all the way to the Supreme Court. He's also opposed amending the Constitution to prohibit burning the American flag.

Update 6:04 p.m.

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., released a statement Friday evening saying he would use his Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs' Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations to look into the IRS' targeting of tea party groups.

“My subcommittee has been investigating the IRS’s failure to enforce the law requiring that tax-exempt 501(c)4s be engaged exclusively in social welfare activities, not partisan politics," Levin said. "Today’s announcement by the IRS raises a second issue: whether the IRS, to the extent it has enforced its rules, has been impartial in doing so. Both issues require investigation.”