Mr. McCONNELL. Madam President, over the past few days we have heard many in the media talk about how this has been a ``rough week'' for the administration. That is because it has been a worse week for the First Amendment.
On Friday we learned that--just as we had been told by our constituents--the IRS deliberately targeted conservative groups across the country in the midst of a heated national election. Over the weekend we learned that the extent of it was even broader--even broader--than we originally thought. Then this morning we all learned the targeting wasn't limited to an IRS office out of Cincinnati, as the administration suggested last week, but that it reached all the way to the IRS headquarters right here in Washington.
What we don't know at this point is whether it jumped the fence from the IRS to the White House. But we do know this: We can't count on the administration to be forthcoming about the details of this scandal because so far they have been anything but. So this morning I am calling on the President to make available completely and without restriction everyone--everyone--who can answer the questions we have as to what has been going on at the IRS, who knew about it, and how high it went--no stonewalling, no more incomplete answers, no more misleading responses, no holding back witnesses no matter how senior their current or former positions. We need full transparency and we need full cooperation.
The American people deserve answers. The answers the IRS has now owned up to and that were uncovered by their own inspector general are an outrage--an absolute outrage. We now know the IRS targeted groups for using such terminology as--get this--``we the people'' and for educating folks about the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
I mean, you can't make this stuff up.
What is also clear is that government officials repeatedly failed to own up to what they knew was going on--when it turns out they'd known about it since at least the middle of 2011.
So the IRS knew what was happening--yet they continued to give us assurances that they were applying the tax rules in a fair and impartial way.
Despite repeated assurances from the Obama administration that it was not targeting its political enemies through the IRS during the last election cycle, we have now learned that the IRS was in fact singling out conservative groups--groups who dared to speak up and express their First Amendment rights.
Let's recap what happened.
Last March, after receiving multiple claims of unusual harassment by the IRS from constituents who wanted to form tax-exempt political organizations, I and several of my colleagues sent a letter to then-IRS Commissioner Shulman questioning selective enforcement on tax exempt organizations.
Now, we learn, according to the IRS' own Inspector General, that the IRS was well aware that this selective treatment was happening at the time our letter was sent, and in fact had already acted to correct what they later called ``inappropriate'' behavior.
But there was no mention of that in the IRS initial response.
Nor was there any mention of this behavior, which was by that time well-known within the agency, in a second letter sent back to us in September 2012.
We had to wait several more months--to wait for a special investigator's report that Republicans demanded--in order to find out the truth of what was actually happening at the IRS.
In the coming days we'll learn more, and we'll start getting answers to questions like: Was the IRS deliberately misleading Republican Senators, or was it betraying profound incompetence? But, as I said, the fact is, none of this would have come out if we'd relied on the administration's own word and Republicans had not demanded the truth.
Clearly, we've only started to scratch the surface of this scandal.
The American people are looking for answers, and I am determined to help them get to the bottom of this.
Last June, I gave a very public speech in which I called out the Obama administration for serial abuses of government power in going after its political enemies in the middle of a heated national election. The left scoffed at the suggestion. The Washington Post said my speech was full of ``red herrings.'' The New York Times called my argument ``bogus''. Robert Reich called it ``bonkers.''
Well, you know what we learned last week: these abuses were even more widespread than we knew.
So it is good to see even some of my Democrat colleagues now criticizing the IRS for such blatant and thuggish abuse of power. It is preferable to the silence--or, worse, encouragement--they have demonstrated in the past.
The Chairman of the Finance Committee was correct in referring to the IRS' actions as an ``outrageous abuse of power and a breach of the public's trust.'' He's vowed to ``get to the bottom'' of what happened, and he's promised that his committee will hold hearings on all this. Those hearings should be tough, and they should aim to bring the truth to light. But our Democrat friends should also acknowledge their role in inculcating this culture of intimidation, due to repeated calls for increased IRS scrutiny of groups like the very ones that were targeted.
We owe it to all Americans to get to the bottom of this scandal, hold those responsible accountable, and put the proper safeguards in place for moving forward. Because, as the President was correct in noting yesterday, one day a Republican will inhabit the Oval Office. And when he or she does, the left will want to know that they will not be harassed for having the audacity to disagree. That an agency like the IRS will return to its proper role as a completely non-partisan and apolitical institution--not a tool for an administration of one stripe to bully and intimidate those who adhere to another.
But in order for Congress to effectively perform the oversight it needs to do, the administration will have to make everyone who can answer these questions available expeditiously.
We have even more questions today than we did last year, and we are not going to accept more half-baked responses. We want the full truth this time. And we intend to get it.
I yield the floor.