By Jason Wermers
At least three Georgia elected officials on both sides of the aisle have publicly called for the Obama administration to explain three recent missteps that have taken center stage in Washington and across the nation.
U.S. Reps. John Barrow and Jack Kingston, along with U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, want more answers on the Sept. 11 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, the Internal Revenue Service's admitted targeting of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status, and the U.S. Department of Justice's seizure of two months worth of phone records from The Associated Press.
In a related development, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced Tuesday that the Justice Department is investigating the IRS for targeting conservative groups.
Barrow, D-Ga., sent a letter Tuesday to President Barack Obama in response to the recent reports of the IRS flagging groups with names such as "Tea Party," "Patriots" or "9/12 Project" for in-depth reviews of their applications. In his letter, Barrow also called on the White House to fully comply with the investigations into the deaths of four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, in Benghazi and the Department of Justice seizing AP phone records.
While the government has not said why it sought the phone records, the AP reported that officials have previously said in public testimony that the U.S. attorney in Washington is conducting a criminal investigation into who might have provided information contained in a May 7, 2012, AP story about a foiled terror plot. The story disclosed details of a CIA operation in Yemen that stopped an al-Qaida plot in the spring of 2012 to detonate a bomb on an airplane bound for the United States.
"Folks in the 12th District in Georgia and across the country are demanding answers to the federal government's recent serious missteps," Barrow said in a news release issued Tuesday. "It's important for us to get to the bottom of scandals within the IRS and the DOJ and hold the appropriate personnel responsible for abusing the public's trust.
"Four Americans were killed in Benghazi and dozens more in embassies in recent years," he continued. "This administration has a duty to fully comply with investigations into each of these matters and to make sure they never happen again. What's left of the public's trust in the federal government is quickly diminishing, and we need to do everything we can to restore confidence in our government."
Kingston, R-Ga., focused on the IRS debacle.
In a letter to Acting IRS Commissioner Steven T. Miller, Kingston called for a full investigation of the incident as well as an accounting of groups based in Georgia that were targeted.
"The Internal Revenue Service should not be an extension of the Democratic National Committee," Kingston said. "By targeting groups perceived as opposing the president's political agenda, those behind this incident sought to trample our constitutional right to free speech. Using the levers of government to intimidate and stifle debate is unacceptable. We need a full review of what took place and for those responsible to be held to account."
The scandal dates back to March 2010, when IRS agents at a field office in Cincinnati began using phrases such as "Tea Party" and "patriots" to flag applications for additional scrutiny. Within a year, the unit had subjected more than 100 groups based on their perceived ideology. By that time, the net used to single out groups expanded to those concerned about "government debt," "taxes," or even those that "criticize how the country is being run," according to a news release Kingston issued Tuesday.
While the IRS commissioner testified before Congress in March 2012 that the agency was not targeting conservative groups for political reasons, an Inspector General's report to be released this week is said to confirm senior officials knew of the practice as early as August 2011, Kingston said. Several media outlets also have reported those allegations.
Those officials failed to disclose their knowledge of the events when asked by members of Congress specifically about targeting of conservative groups, Kingston said.
"It is clear that some within the IRS sought to mislead Congress and the American people," he said. "We will work to hold them accountable and to get the answers we need to ensure this cannot happen again."
Chambliss, R-Ga., said Monday in an interview with The Augusta Chronicle that he plans to ask the CIA to declassify emails concerning the Benghazi attacks.
"I think the American people deserve to have all the information laid out there for them to make their own judgment," Chambliss told The Chronicle.