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Senator: IRS targeting of tea party 'chilling'

WASHINGTON -- Republicans said Sunday that the Internal Revenue Service's heightened scrutiny of conservative political groups was "chilling" and further eroded public trust in government.

Lawmakers said President Barack Obama should personally apologize for the tax agency's targeting tea party organizations. They scoffed at the blame placed on low-level workers.

"I just don't buy that this was a couple of rogue IRS employees," said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). "After all, groups with 'progressive' in their names were not targeted similarly."

If it were just a small number of employees, she said, "then you would think that the high-level IRS supervisors would have rushed to make this public, fired the employees involved, apologized to the American people and informed Congress. None of that happened in a timely way."

The IRS said Friday that it was sorry for what it called the "inappropriate" targeting of the conservative groups during the 2012 election to see if they were violating their tax-exempt status. The agency said no high-level officials were aware.

But according to a draft of a watchdog's report obtained Saturday by The Associated Press that seemingly contradicts public statements by the IRS commissioner, senior IRS officials knew agents were targeting tea party groups as early as 2011.

The Treasury Department's inspector general for tax administration is expected to release the results of a nearly yearlong investigation in the coming week.

After the AP report Saturday, White House press secretary Jay Carney said that if the inspector general "finds that there were any rules broken or that conduct of government officials did not meet the standards required of them, the president expects that swift and appropriate steps will be taken to address any misconduct."

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