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Lawmakers Call For Hearings On IRS Scandal

The IRS scandal hands Republicans an unexpected opportunity to chide the Obama administration. It comes as the GOP's resurrected questions about how top officials, including the president, handled the attack last September in Benghazi, Libya, that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This IRS scandal has given Republicans an unexpected opportunity to chide the Obama administration. And it comes as the GOP was resurrecting questions about how top Washington officials, including the president, handled the attacks on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya last year.

NPR's David Welna has more on the latest political firestorm.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: It became quite clear over the weekend, that no matter who ordered the flagging of Tea Party groups at the IRS, Republicans of all stripes are not about to give President Obama a pass. Senator Susan Collins, a moderate Republican from Maine, told CNN Sunday it was disappointing the president had not spoken out and personally condemned the IRS's actions.

SENATOR SUSAN COLLINS: His spokesman has said that it should be investigated, but the president needs to make crystal clear that this is totally unacceptable in America.

WELNA: And so he did - at a brief news conference yesterday at the White House, with Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain's Conservative Party at his side.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: If you've got the IRS operating in anything less than a neutral and non-partisan way then that is outrageous, it is contrary to our traditions, and people have to be held accountable and it's got to be fixed.

WELNA: Other Democrats also distanced themselves. On the Senate floor, Majority Leader Harry Reid declared that targeting group based on its political stance was completely inappropriate.

SENATOR HARRY REID: We need to get to the bottom of what happened and the inspector general will get to the bottom of this. In the meantime, no one should jump to conclusions. But we should all rest assured as soon as we have the inspector general's report, the Senate will quickly take appropriate action.

WELNA: And Max Baucus, the Democrat who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, said the IRS should get ready for a full investigation into the matter by that tax-writing panel.

The House Ways and Means Committee moved faster, announcing its holding a hearing this Friday with only two witnesses: acting IRS Commissioner, Steve Miller, and Russell George, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. And Kansas Republican Senator Jerry Moran accused the IRS of illegally releasing donor lists from conservative groups.

SENATOR JERRY MORAN: Now that we know that something is wrong at the IRS, there is more to be discovered as we look at how did this information get released? Were people who released it punished? Was the publication of this - the individuals who published this information, is there any pending criminal action against them for the publication?

WELNA: There were no expressions of outrage by Republicans though, over the leaking last Friday of State Department and CIA email exchanges concerning the attacks in Benghazi. President Obama was asked about them yesterday at the White House.

OBAMA: The emails that you allude to were provided, by us, to congressional committees. They reviewed them several months ago, concluded that, in fact, there was nothing afoul in terms of the process that we had used. And suddenly, three days ago, this gets spun up as if there's something new to the story. There's no there there.

WELNA: The president said the Benghazi episode was being turned into a political circus, and that political motivations drove last week's hearings on Benghazi by the House Oversight Committee. Darrell Issa, the Republican who chairs that panel, responded on CNN.

REPRESENTATIVE DARRELL ISSA: He couldn't be more blunt and more inaccurate. First of all, he used the plural. As far as I know, only the Select Intelligence Committee received this and they received it simply as a question of what did the CIA know in their talking points? More importantly, had we received this, we would've recognized immediately that there was a progression from truth to lie in 12 changes.

WELNA: In fact, both the House and Senate's Select Intelligence Committees received the now leaked emails. Maine Independent Senator Angus King told MSNBC he'd read them and saw no cover-up.

SENATOR ANGUS KING: This is going to nag the administration. I think they ought to just release this information and let the Congress look 'em over and let the public decide.

WELNA: Meanwhile, a Pew poll done over the weekend found only 44 percent closely following the Benghazi affair - an all-time low.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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GREENE: And you're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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