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IRS Scandal: John Boehner, Mitch McConnell Suggest Tea Party Targeting Was Criminal

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WASHINGTON -- The nation's top two Republican leaders suggested Wednesday that criminal acts were likely committed by the Internal Revenue Service in its apparent targeting of tea party groups that were seeking tax-exempt status from the agency.

Their comments come after the release of an inspector general report that found the tax collectors improperly singled out the groups who were applying to be "social welfare" groups under the tax code's 501(c)4 provisions, largely because of ineffective management.

President Barack Obama roundly condemned the activity as "intolerable and inexcusable" in a statement Tuesday night, and said the problems would be fixed.

But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) both declared in blunt terms Wednesday that that is not enough.

"My question isn't about who is going to resign. My question is who's going to jail over this scandal," Boehner told reporters in his morning news conference.

Asked who should be arrested if, as the IG report found, the targeting of tea party groups was spurred by incompetence and was not politically motivated, Boehner stood by the insistence that someone should be.

"There are laws in place to prevent this type of abuse. Someone made a conscious decision to harass and to hold up these requests for tax-exempt status," he said. "I think we need to know who they are [and] whether they violated the law. Clearly someone violated the law."

McConnell, who along with more than 40 GOP colleagues wrote a letter to the president demanding more disclosure, also raised the specter of criminality in a Senate floor speech.

"If the president is truly concerned about this issue as he claims, he'll work openly and transparently with us to get to the bottom of what happened, and people will be held accountable," McConnell said.

"These allegations are very serious," he added. "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."

Attorney General Eric Holder announced Tuesday that the FBI and Department of Justice were probing the case to see if laws were broken.

UPDATE: 12:45 p.m. -- McConnell later released his letter, with all 45 members of his caucus signing on. In appealing for Obama to provide more details on the case, they suggested the IRS' behavior was part of a broader effort by the administration to squash dissent.

"We are deeply disturbed that agents of the government were directed to give greater scrutiny to groups engaged in conduct questioning the actions of their government," the letter said. "This type of purely political scrutiny being conducted by an Executive Branch Agency is yet another completely inexcusable attempt to chill the speech of political opponents and those who would question their government, consistent with a broader pattern of intimidation by arms of your administration to silence political dissent."

Separately, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) announced it would be holding a hearing into the IRS actions on Wednesday next week. Among the expected witnesses are Lois Lerner, the IRS official in charge of the division that grants tax-exempt status, and Doug Shulman, the former IRS commissioner who was appointed by President George W. Bush and told Congress last year that tea party groups had not been targeted.

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