McCaskill, Durbin issue scathing rebuke of IRS scrutiny
Two Democratic U.S. senators condemned the Internal Revenue Service's targeting of conservative groups for stricter review as "un-American" and "absolutely unacceptable."
U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill added that high-ranking IRS officials should be fired if they knew what was happening.
Late last week, the Internal Revenue Service acknowledged tougher scrutiny of conservative groups applying for nonprofit status. IRS official Lois Lerner told reporters last Friday that dozens upon dozens of groups were singled out because they had "tea party" or "patriot" in their names. Further reports indicate the practice went back to 2011.
After a ceremony honoring federal law enforcement officials at the Eagleton Federal Court House, both McCaskill, D-Mo., and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, issued strong condemnations of the agency's actions. Durbin told reporters, "It is absolutely unacceptable to single out any political group -- right, left or center -- and say we're going to target them.
"That is unthinkable," Durbin said. "That goes back to some of the worst days of the Richard Nixon administration. And I'm glad this administration stepped up and said we've made a mistake, we apologize and we'll do things to correct it."
U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., discuss the IRS controversy.
McCaskill told reporters "somebody should be fired" over the agency's actions, adding that "it should not just be some line employee."
"Anybody who's in a position of responsibility that knew that this very un-American activity was going on should be fired," McCaskill said. "We see this in law enforcement. You can't pick out who you're going to apply the law to based on who they are, who they know or what they believe. Not in America.
"So I'm very hopeful that both sides of the aisle will come together here and make sure that the focus is on holding people responsible who may have actually done that," she added.
U.S. Rep. Bill Enyart, D-Belleville, did not comment during the press availability.
President Barack Obama called the situation on Monday "outrageous" and vowed to hold the agency accountable. U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said in a statement that he was "outraged that the IRS played politics and wrongfully targeted conservative organizations during the election cycle."
"I join my colleagues in calling on the Obama administration to conduct a transparent review and ensure this type of behavior is not tolerated moving forward and Americans’ first amendment rights are protected,” Blunt said.
Durbin, McCaskill on Benghazi
Durbin and McCaskill also offered their take on the continuing controversy over the Obama's administration's account of an attack on an American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya.
Durbin and McCaskill sound off on the Benghazi controversy.
The Obama administration initially, and wrongly, characterized the attack as a spontaneous response to a YouTube video, not a terrorist attack. The administration found itself on the defensive last week after e-mails surfaced showing the White House was more involved in revising talking points about the attack than originally acknowledged.
U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said he would like to interview under oath former Ambassador Thomas Pickering and retired Admiral Mike Mullen. Both led an investigation examining last year's attacks, which killed four Americans. At a press conference today, Obama dismissed increasing Republican scrutiny as a "sideshow."
Both McCaskill and Durbin told reporters that the focus is drifting away from protecting embassies and preventing a similar situation from occurring again.
"Was this handled right? Of course not," McCaskill said. "We lost American lives. It was not handled right. But the focus now has to be on fixing it so that we never have people in dangerous places on behalf of the American public in that kind of danger. The way that they're trying to politicize that does very little to solve this problem and turns it into a political three-ring circus. And that is what's most disappointing about this."
She contended that the increased scrutiny may be more intent on damaging former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's future political prospects.
"They see a shiny object," McCaskill said. "And they want to be over there and make this all about politics and Secretary Clinton. Because they're all afraid of her running for president. And what we need to do is set aside the politics, fix this so we never lose lives like this again."
McCaskill also took issue with the idea that the military didn't do enough to respond to the attacks.
"I don't think anybody believes that the military intentionally didn't want to protect these people," McCaskill said. "And that's how far they're going with some of these allegations. They're actually impugning our military that somehow they didn't want to protect American life. And on behalf of all the military, I find that offensive."
Durbin expressed similar sentiments as McCaskill.
"Sen. McCaskill and I and all of the senators were invited to a classified briefing after Amb. Pickering and Adm. Mullen finished their comprehensive investigation," Durbin said. "And they went through by chapter and verse the things we could improve. They gave them to the State Department and the CIA, and the Obama administration accepted them. They said 'no excuses -- we're going to make these changes so that our consulates and diplomats will be safer in the future.'
"It's a tragedy to lose four Americans," he added. "Under the previous president, we lost 64 diplomats who were killed in embassies. We've got to learn from these bitter life lessons and get these places safer."
Renewed debate on background checks?
Both McCaskill and Durbin said they hoped Congress would once again take up legislation bolstering background checks for firearms purchases.
The Senate earlier this year considered an amendment put forward a bipartisan compromise to expand background checks, but it failed to get the 60 votes necessary.
Asked whether they felt that issue would be brought back up, McCaskill said: "I think most Missourians really think that terrorists that come to gun shows should have to have a background check.
"That's what this is about," McCaskill said. "Are we going to say in America if you're a terrorist, you can go online or go to a gun show and get any weaponry you want? So, I hope it does come back and we can vote again. We have the majority of the Senate in favor of it. I know the majority of our country is in favor of it. So obviously in a democracy we keep working at it."
Before talking with reporters, Durbin, McCaskill and Enyart participated in a ceremony presenting the congressional badge of bravery to federal law enforcement officials who helped apprehend an armed fugitive in St. Louis.
One of those honored was Deputy U.S. Marshal John Perry, one of two people shot during an attempt to arrest Carlos Boles. He later died of those injuries.
"Today we honored these marshals, one of whom gave his life when a convicted felon had a gun and set out to kill these brave men," Durbin said. "I don't know if there's anything in our law that could have stopped it. But we have to do everything humanly possible to keep guns out of the hands of convicted felons and mentally unstable people.
"I think sportsmen and hunters agree: They want to protect their Second Amendment rights," he added. "They don't want to protect a convicted felon who's trying to buy a gun over the internet or at a gun show."
In addition to honoring Perry, other people who received the congressional badge included Supervisory Deputy U.S. Marshal Patrick James, Deputy U.S. Marshal Theodore Abegg, Deputy U.S. Marshal Travis Franke, Deputy U.S. Marshal Nicholas Garrett and Deputy U.S. Marshal Jeremy Wyatt.
Before the badges were delivered, Enyart -- who served as the adjutant general of the Illinois National Guard before being elected to Congress last year -- said that the ceremony was "about the service of the front line soldiers battling crime and protecting us."
"Just as soldiers, airmen and Marines protect us, without the effort, without the work, without the blood, sweat, toil and tears of the police officers who every day go forth to protect us, we would not have the society that we have today," Enyart said.