IRS chief Miller falls on his sword and resigns
He hadn't been confirmed, but the Obama administration is desperate to get out in front of the trio of scandals that are roiling Washington, and asked for and got the resignation of Steven Miller, acting commissioner of the IRS.
Asking a guy to resign who would have been gone in a month anyway is like bailing the engine room of the Titanic with a spoon - not worth the effort. But in this case, it's atmospherics that matters more than substance.
The action was Obama's first substantive step to address a political uproar stemming from the IRS's disclosure that it had targeted conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status. It capped a day when the White House tried to dampen two other furors that had put Obama on the defensive -- the Justice Department's seizure of Associated Press phone records and the administration's editing of talking points about the deadly attacks in Benghazi, Libya, last year.
In a brief but fiery evening statement in the East Room of the White House, Obama labeled the IRS's actions "inexcusable."
"Americans are right to be angry about it, and I'm angry about it," he said, adding that he "will not tolerate this kind of behavior in any agency, but especially in the IRS, given the power that it has and the reach that it has."
The administration also took the extraordinary step of releasing a letter from Treasury Secretary Jack Lew in which he demanded that Miller resign in order "to restore public trust and confidence in the IRS."
The forceful response underscored just how damaging the IRS scandal and the other issues could become for a second-term president trying to secure an ambitious array of legislative achievements. Obama and his aides have been criticized in recent days by opponents and supporters alike for a slow and seemingly passive response to the controversies.
Already the narrative is emerging that it was two "rogue" IRS employees in Cincinnati who came up with the idea in 2010 and acted alone in implementing criteria that targeted conservative groups. I wonder how long that part of the narrative will be operative?
Most of those involved at the IRS are career civil service, which would necessitate administrative hearings in order to get rid of them. About the best that can be expected is that the new commissioner will demote senior management who had a hand in this - a truly unsatisfactory outcome given the transgressions.