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Pfeiffer defends White House handling of IRS targeting scandal

Interview begins at 1:24 mark.

White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer on Sunday defended the White House handling of the Internal Revenue Service scandal, saying the legality of the political targeting was “irrelevant” and vowing the administration would ensure it “never happens again."

Pfeiffer, who made the full round of Sunday talk shows, as the administration seeks to calm anger over the IRS, the Justice Department’s seizure of reporters phone records and lingering GOP questions about the Benghazi attacks, vowed that the administration would act quickly to address the tax scandal.

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“I can’t speak to the law here. The law is irrelevant,” said Pfeiffer on ABC’s “This Week.” “The activity was outrageous and inexcusable, and it was stopped and it needs to be fixed so we ensure it never happens again.”

Pressed on that statement by ABC's George Stephanopoulos, Pfeiffer explained that the administration would not wait for a legal determination from the Justice Department before they acted.

“The Department of Justice has said they’re looking into the legality of this. The president is not going to wait for that. We have to make sure it doesn’t happen again, regardless of how that turns out,” he said.

Conservatives have questioned if the IRS use of higher scrutiny on Tea Party groups seeking tax exemption was directed by White House officials for political gain. 

Pfeiffer denied that there was any influence from the White House. 

“But don’t take my word for it,” he continued. “Take the word of the independent inspector general, who said that he found no evidence that there was any influence from anywhere outside of the IRS.”

Pfeiffer also said the White House had not seen the inspector general’s report last week detailing the IRS scandal until its release. 

“It’s important to know what we actually knew, which is just that there was an investigation, it was coming to conclusion.  Not that we knew the results.  We didn’t see the report until it was released last Wednesday,” he said.

The IRS actions have brought anger from both parties, with Obama calling it “outrageous” and accepting the resignation of Steven Miller, the acting director of the agency last week. Lawmakers have begun hearings and GOP lawmakers have vowed to probe any connection with White House staff. 

But Pfeiffer on Sunday warned that the probes should not be politicized. 

“We are going to work with Congress, as the president said, in legitimate oversight,” Pfeiffer said. “What we’re not going to participate in is partisan fishing expeditions designed to distract from the real issues at hand.”

Some GOP lawmakers have also raised questions about the role of the IRS in managing the rollout of the president’s healthcare reform law. ObamaCare includes a number of taxes and fees with oversight from the IRS.

Pfeiffer, though, said he had confidence in the tax agency’s ability to handle the coming healthcare reforms.

“The new acting commissioner is going to start next week.  He’s going to get in there, he’s going to do a top to bottom review and make sure that they can do the job and do it right,” he said.

This story was last updated at 10:36 a.m.