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IRS targeting of conservative groups was no secret

| Tuesday, May 21, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
FILE - In this May 10, 2006 file photo, then-federal prosecutor, now White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler is seen in Houston. It might have seemed a no-win situation to the White House: either keep President Barack Obama in the dark about a looming investigation into political targeting by the Internal Revenue Service or blur legal lines by telling him about an independent audit. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan, File)

WASHINGTON — The White House acknowledged on Monday that senior aides to President Obama knew a month ago that the Internal Revenue Service had targeted conservative groups, expanding on previous administration statements about who in the White House knew about the inquiry and when they knew it.

Previously, the White House said that only White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler had been told of the investigation of the IRS, and that her office had been informed in the week of April 22. On Monday, the White House said the counsel's office had been alerted to the IRS inquiry earlier, and that more senior advisers in the West Wing were told, including Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and other aides the Obama administration refused to name.

The administration insisted anew that no one in the White House knew of the practice of targeting conservative groups until the inquiry was almost done, and that no one told the president even about the inspector general's investigation until it was reported publicly by the IRS itself.

“It is entirely appropriate that the president not be notified of something of an ongoing ... audit of the IRS activity,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said. “The suggestion of alerting him is that then he would do something. And if he were to do something, imagine what that story would look like.”

Obama has been under intense scrutiny for his administration's handling of the IRS controversy. Some lawmakers have faulted the administration for not acting fast enough, while others are suspicious of his aides' repeated comments that they did not know about the allegations beforehand.

“I think there's going to be a gradual disclosing of various parts of this issue,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee.

“The inspector general's audit — initiated at the request of members of Congress — was a good start, but it's clear there's much more that must be explored, including how this targeting was able to continue for so long without the administration acting to stop it,” said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.

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