White House press secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday that he could rule out any involvement by President Obama or West Wing staff in the IRS decision to target conservative organizations.
Pressed during his daily press briefing if he could be certain, Carney replied “yes,” and added that White House lawyers were first "notified about this activity, very broadly, just a few weeks ago."
He said the White House was waiting for the release of the Inspector General's report examining the IRS actions.
"If what we're seeing in some of these reports about specific targeting and actions taken by specific personnel within the IRS, people should be held accountable," Carney said. "What that means, we'll have to see based on the facts."
Carney also stopped short of saying definitively that IRS staffers could lose their job or face criminal penalties.
Carney was pressed how he could make a categorical declaration that no White House officials were involved while waiting for the facts from the IG report.
Carney acknowledged that the full extent of the IRS targeting remained unknown but he had "no reason to believe" there was any West Wing involvement. He added he was "certainly not aware of and confident that" nobody from the president's political team was involved.
The IRS apologized Friday for having wrongfully singled out political groups seeking tax-exempt status, including those with “tea party” or “patriot” in their name.
But an investigative report from the Treasury inspector general for tax administration, expected to be made public this week and obtained early by The Hill and other news organizations, suggests that the political targeting was more widespread and that senior IRS officials were aware of it as early as 2011.
The House Ways and Means Committee will launch a hearing to investigate the brewing scandal on Friday.
Republican leaders, including Govs. Bobby Jindal (La.) and Scott Walker (Wis.), have called for the appointment of a special prosecutor.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has said that the acting commissioner of the IRS should resign.