WASHINGTON -- Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. said Tuesday that he had ordered a criminal investigation into allegations that top IRS officials targeted conservative groups for extra scrutiny.
“I have ordered an investigation to be begun,” he said. “The FBI is coordinating with the Justice Department to see if any laws were broken in connection with those matters related to the IRS. Those were, I think, as everyone can agree, if not criminal, they were certainly outrageous and unacceptable, but we are examining the facts to see if there were criminal violations.”
He said the investigation, begun Friday, will be looking to see whether Internal Revenue Service officials “have gone beyond what they were supposed to do, broken regulations, broken rules, broken the law. We have prosecuted people. We have held people accountable. We have tried to do things according to the rules. There are going to be people, occasionally, who will not do so.”
At least three congressional committees also are lining up investigations into how the IRS selected groups for extra scrutiny. Lois Lerner, the IRS director of exempt organizations, said employees pulled applications for nonprofit status from groups that used the words “tea party” or “patriots” in their names. Later, employees also singled out organizations that focused on the Constitution or that wrote about problems about how the country was being run.
Some of the groups were asked for large amounts of information – including a list of their donors. Meanwhile, as a furor mounted on Capitol Hill last year, IRS officials repeatedly told members of Congress that they had not targeted any groups for special treatment.
Also Tuesday, a White House spokesman said no one at the White House knew about the matter until lawyers were told of a forthcoming inspector general’s review several weeks ago.
“I can tell you that I am not aware of anyone here knowing about it,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters in a heated daily briefing.
When pressed on how he could be so certain, Carney revised the statement.
“I am certainly not aware of and am confident that no one here was involved in this.”
Kathleen Hennessey contributed to this report.