WASHINGTON -- In sharp and explicit terms, a top White House official on Wednesday downplayed the controversy surrounding the IRS' screening of tea party groups, saying it had been drummed up by Republicans to falsely imply presidential involvement.
Speaking at a breakfast organized by the Christian Science Monitor, senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer didn't go so far as to call investigations into the IRS' activity illegitimate, and he said any whiffs of wrongdoing should be "looked at" and addressed. But accusations that the administration had played a role in -- or was at fault for -- the agency's conduct were "completely false."
"The allegation was, by many Republicans, that the White House was directing the IRS to target Tea Party groups," he said. "That was the allegation. And that has turned out to be completely false. There is no evidence to suggest that. And now it has turned out that the IRS was not just targeting conservative groups but also looking at a large number of progressive groups as well. So that changes the dynamic of what it was."
Pfeiffer specifically called out House Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and other congressional Republicans for repeatedly trying to tie the White House to the scandal.
"I'd say that on all of the issues that you are talking about [IRS, Benghazi, NSA surveillance], there are legitimate questions to be looked at to be sure if things happened the wrong way, that they should be addressed. That is different then trying to turn them, to try to use them to score political points, which Congressman Issa and the Republican Senate have been very clear that that's what they are trying to do," Pfeiffer said. "All of these allegations about White House involvement, that the White House was involved, that Washington was involved, all of these things, as the facts have come out, have not been as such."
The facts of the IRS scandal certainly have changed since it initially exploded. At first, it wasn't just Republicans calling it Obama's Watergate -- members of the press were floating the analogy as well. But as evidence emerged that the agency had scrutinized progressive groups in addition to conservative ones, and as the inspector general who audited the IRS testified that he had uncovered no evidence of White House involvement, the hysteria faded away.
Still, congressional investigations are ongoing. Republicans continue to argue that the administration created a political climate that encouraged IRS personnel to think excessive screening of conservative groups was justified. And on Wednesday, Issa announced he was seeking a new investigation by the IG into whether the IRS targeted conservative groups even after they had received tax-exempt status.
"This administration will say anything as it attempts to distract Americans from the facts," Issa spokesman Frederick Hill told The Huffington Post. "While Obama Administration officials and their surrogates viciously attacked the Tea Party for years, what has been most troubling is the year long cover-up of an internal IRS investigation, the White House’s evolving explanations of what occurred, and the IRS no longer fully honoring President Obama’s pledge to fully cooperate with Congressional investigators. We still don’t know the motivations of senior IRS officials involved in the systematic targeting and disparate treatment of Tea Party applicants."