Justice Dept. To Probe IRS Conduct; Feinstein & Pelosi Decry Targeting

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(Photo Credit: Thinkstock)

(Photo Credit: Thinkstock)

WASHINGTON, D.C. (CBS SF/CBS News) — As new details emerge about the Internal Revenue Service’s controversial practices of targeting conservative groups, the U.S. Justice Department ordered an investigation on the subject and Attorney General Eric Holder said Tuesday the department was coordinating with the FBI to assess whether or not any laws were broken and called the IRS’s actions “outrageous and unacceptable.”

The besieged tax agency found few defenders, with prominent Bay Area Democratic lawmakers condemning the practice and demanding further investigation.

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said simply: “Somebody made the decision that they would give extra scrutiny” to conservative groups, “and I think we have to understand why.”

Added U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, “…it is clear that the actions taken by some at the IRS must be condemned. Those who engaged in this behavior were wrong and must be held accountable for their actions. Regardless of political affiliation or bias, there is no place for this type of activity by the IRS or its employees.”

On Friday, the IRS apologized for having singled out tea party and other conservative groups that filed for tax-exempt status, and documents obtained by CBS News show that a group of the agency’s specialists were instructed to focus on organizations seeking tax-exempt status that had “political sounding names” as early as the spring of 2010.

In a press briefing Monday, President Obama decried the alleged targeting as “outrageous,” if true, and pledged that anyone found to be operating “in anything less than a neutral and non-partisan” fashion would be held “fully accountable.”

But it’s unclear what those actions would look like.

White House spokesman Jay Carney on Tuesday said the White House didn’t want to “jump to conclusions” before reading the final report by the inspector general, and said no determination would be made before then.

“We have not, you know, independently collected information about what transpired. We need the independent inspector general’s report to be released before we can make judgments,” Carney said. “One person’s view of what actions were taken or what that individual did is not enough for us to say something concretely happened that was inappropriate.”

Meanwhile, the White House is pushing back hard against the notion it might have had anything to do with the IRS’s targeting practice.

White House Jay Carney stated categorically Tuesday that no one at the White House or on the president’s team was involved in the controversy, though he backtracked when pressed on how he could have such unequivocal certainty on what others knew about the situation.

“I am certainly not aware of, and am confident that no one here was involved in this,” he responded. “We found out about it just a few weeks ago, and only, you know — when I say ‘we,’ I didn’t, the president didn’t, but the White House counsel’s office only found out about the review being conducted and coming to a conclusion by the inspector general.”

(Copyright 2013 CBS San Francisco and CBS Interactive. All rights reserved.)

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