Watch CBS News

President Obama Says He Was Unaware Of IRS Targeting Before Scandal Broke

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- President Barack Obama faced tough questions Thursday about the scandal at the Internal Revenue Service.

He's appointing a new boss at the tax agency and Friday the ex-boss will face tough questions on Capitol Hill, CBS 2's Marcia Kramer reported.

It could be a grilling to remember.

WATCH: CBS News Special Report On Obama News Conference

Steven Miller, axed by the president as acting IRS chief, is scheduled to testify about how the powerful tax agency improperly targeted conservative groups like the Tea Party.

"I want to know how this happened, who was responsible for it," House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Thursday. "Somebody made a decision to do this and I doubt that it was some low-level employees in the Cincinnati field office."

A trifecta of scandals has enveloped the White House -- from the response to the Benghazi attack in Libya to the seizure of Associated Press phone records in a leak investigation to the IRS improperly targeting conservative groups for special scrutiny. Late Thursday afternoon came word that a second top IRS official announced plans to quit the scandal-plagued agency.

Chopping off the head of the IRS boss isn't likely to quell the outcry, CBS 2's Kramer reported. There are demands to know the involvement, if any, of the president, his aides, even the people working on his re-election campaign.

"That goes all the way up to the White House. We need to know what the White House knew and when they knew it," said Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.)

Congressman Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) sits on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. He defended the IRS as an institution.

"I know a lot of the IRS people," Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) told WCBS 880's Steve Scott. "They're basically hard-working people and I just hope that they're not tainted by a few jerks who thought they were going to take the law into their hands, who broke the law -- there's no two ways about this -- and should be punished."

Rep. Bill Pascrell Reacts To IRS Scandal

"I don't believe that you should destroy the entire institution," Pascrell told Scott.

"We need to know what took them two years to get us the total information. Mr. Miller's gone and I think some other people will probably be gone by the time the hearings are completed over the next several weeks," said Pascrell. "I want to know if anybody led him by the nose."

The congressman added he does not think Miller was a scapegoat in this case.

If Miller opts to invoke his Fifth Amendment right to not incriminate himself during Friday's hearing, "we should go out for the jugular if that's the case," said Pascrell.

Things have become so tense that the president was asked if his travails resembled those of former President Richard Nixon and Watergate.

"Well, I'll let you guys engage in those comparisons. You can go ahead and read the history I think and draw your own conclusions. My concern is making sure that if there's a problem in the government we fix it," President Obama said.

But some of the GOP attacks relating to an inspector general report on the IRS that revealed the special scrutiny of conservatives seemed to draw blood.

"Whether you're a Republican or a Democrat or an Independent in this country, to take the abuse of a $3.8 trillion government, the power of that government, and to use it to stifle opposition is profoundly un-American," said Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.)

"I can assure you that I certainly did not know anything about the [inspector general] report," the president said.

Obama said that after firing Miller he would install new leadership. Sources told CBS 2's Kramer it will be Daniel Werfel, who will serve as acting commissioner through the end of the year.

"It is just simply unacceptable for there to even be a hint of partisanship or ideology when it comes to the application of our taxes," President Obama said.

The president appeared to at least partially defend the seizing of the telephone records of journalists, saying that "leaks related to national security can put people at risk," and he said he had complete confidence in Attorney General Eric Holder.

You may also be interested in these stories:

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.