A CNN/ORC poll found that 54 percent of Americans don’t believe that Congress is overreacting to the IRS scrutiny of conservative groups, while 42 percent said that it is. By an even larger margin, 59 percent to 37 percent, respondents said that Congress is making the right moves on the administration’s actions regarding the Benghazi terror attack.
The poll came as White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer made the round of Sunday talk shows, defending President Barack Obama over charges that he was unaware of the IRS scandal until hearing press reports.
“Here’s the cardinal rule … for all White Houses,” Pfeiffer said. “You do not interfere in an independent investigation, and you do not do anything to give off the appearance of interference in an independent investigation.”
Pfeiffer said Obama learned about the IRS scandal on May 10, the same day as the public, even though Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Rep. Darrell Issa, a California Republican, were aware of the probe earlier but alert the White House about it while the investigation was ongoing.
The White House might not have commanded Internal Revenue agents to target conservative groups, but a “culture of intimidation throughout the administration” made them think it was acceptable, says Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
The Department of Health and Human Services, the Federal Communications Commission, and the Securities and Exchange Commission all have targeted groups with a right-wing bent, McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said on “Meet the Press” Sunday.
“What we’re talking about here is an attitude that the government knows best,” McConnell said. “The nanny state is here to tell us all what to do, and if you start criticizing you get targeted.”
The IRS admitted that agents singled out groups with “tea party,” “patriot” and other conservative key words for additional scrutiny when they applied for 501(c)(4) status over the past two years. The status allows the groups not to pay taxes, keep their donor lists private, and engage in some political activity as long as it is not the group’s main focus.
A clip of McConnell on C-SPAN from June 11, 1987 showed him critical of such groups at the time, when he feared liberal organizations could use the status to hide donors who were contributing to political causes. Now, it is clear that the federal government is trying to target people on donor lists to shut them up, McConnell said.
“I was wrong 25 years ago; I’ve been right for the last two decades,” McConnell said. “The government should not be trying to intimidate citizens who criticize the government from exercising their First Amendment rights.”
Pfeiffer found some welcome news while on CNN’s “State of the Union,” which reported Obama’s job approval at 53 percent. The numbers were up 2 percent from early April, and up 6 points from their low of 47 percent in mid-March.
“I think the American people have great faith in the president,” Pfeiffer said.