Poll: Majority believes IRS targeting of Tea Party was intentional

A new poll finds that a majority of Americans believes the Internal Revenue Service targeting scandal was an intentional effort to harass conservative political groups.

In a Washington Post/ABC News poll released Tuesday, 56 percent said the IRS use of higher scrutiny on Tea Party groups seeking tax-exempt status was a deliberate move, with 31 percent calling it an “administrative mistake.”

A strong majority, 74 percent, said the IRS moves were inappropriate to 20 percent who said they were appropriate. Fifty-one percent also said they believe those actions were illegal to 44 who said they were inappropriate but not against the law. 

A plurality also believe the administration is not being forthcoming about the targeting scandal. Forty-five percent said the administration is trying to cover up facts, with 42 percent saying the White House has honestly disclosed what they know.

The controversies over the IRS, the Justice Department’s seizure of reporters’ phone records and the administration’s Benghazi talking points have kept the White House on the defensive this month. 

The WP/ABC News poll, however, suggests the scandals have yet to damage the president’s personal standing. 

Obama holds a 51 percent approval rating to 44 percent negative. 

Lawmakers though are pressing for answers on when senior officials at Treasury and the White House first learned about the political bias at the IRS and what steps they took to stop it.

On Monday, the White House acknowledged that senior officials were aware of an inspector general report into the improper targeting, but decided not to tell President Obama. White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler learned about the Treasury audit in April.

Press secretary Jay Carney defended the decision to not inform Obama, who has said he learned about the scandal when it became public on May 10. Carney said that informing the president could have led to charges that the administration was improperly trying to influence the investigation. 

But the disclosure that the president’s top lawyer knew about the scandal weeks before will likely intensify congressional scrutiny.

On Monday, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and ranking Republican Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) called for the IRS to turn over more documents on the targeting scandal, broadening their investigation. Their panel will hold its first hearing on the IRS scandal on Tuesday. 

The House Ways and Means Committee last week heard testimony from acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller, who offered his resignation after the scandal broke.

Calls also grew for a special investigator to probe the matter. On Sunday Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said he believed a special counsel would be “necessary” to ensure a fair inquiry

The poll was conducted from May 16 to 19 and has a 3.5-point margin of error.

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