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US Official: White House Was Unaware of IRS Misdeeds

President Barack Obama and White House Senior Advisor Dan Pfeiffer, right, react to a reporter's question as they leave the Treasury Department in Washington, Jan. 16, 2013.
A senior Obama administration official says the White House had no knowledge of misdeeds being committed by America’s tax collecting agency - one of several scandals engulfing the administration.

The Internal Revenue Service has admitted to singling out conservative political groups for heightened scrutiny in recent years. The IRS is a politically-independent agency within the Treasury Department, which is headed by a member of the president’s Cabinet. And so the question arises: did the White House know of improper IRS behavior before an independent investigator’s report was released earlier this month?

White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer says no. “The first that the White House was made aware of it was from the Treasury Department a few weeks ago. And not the details of what happened, not the results of the investigation, but that an independent investigation was about to conclude," he said.

Speaking on CBS’ Face the Nation program, Pfeiffer said the White House had a hands-off approach to the probe. “You have a cardinal rule, which is you do nothing to interfere with an independent investigation and you do nothing to offer the appearance of interfering in an investigation. So we, I feel like we handled this the appropriate way," he said.

White House assurances do not satisfy Republican Congressman Paul Ryan, who was Mitt Romney’s running mate in last year’s presidential contest.

“What we do now know that, for roughly two years, the IRS was targeting Americans based on their political beliefs," he said. "So we are going to continue this investigation to get to the bottom of this: who knew [about the scandal]? When did they know? Why did they do this? How high up in government did it go?”

Speaking on the Fox News Sunday television program, Ryan dismissed last week’s assertion by the IRS’ former acting commissioner that the targeting of certain political groups constituted errors and “poor customer service”.

“People deserve a government they can trust, that is honest, impartial. To try and suggest that this is just bureaucratic snafus [mistakes] - we already know that that is not true," he said.

In addition to the IRS scandal, Congress has been probing the administration’s actions during and after last year’s attack on the U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya that killed four Americans, including the ambassador, and whether the Justice Department acted properly in secretly seizing phone records form the Associated Press.