Lindsey Graham says the IRS's conduct in targeting conservative political groups seeking tax-exempt status, as well as the U.S. Justice Department's investigations into national security reporters, reveals a "culture of revenge" that he suggested was a hallmark of U.S. President Barack Obama's years in the White House.
"My belief about the IRS scandal is that this culture of going after Tea Party groups that were on the president’s case about Obamacare did just not accidentally happen," the South Carolina senator said on "Fox News Sunday."
"I think it comes from the top in terms of tone."
After originally denying any senior White House staff knew of the IRS shenanigans, Jay Carney, the White House spokesman, backtracked last week.
Carney says that Obama's chief of staff, Denis McDonough, was not only aware of the scandal, but had discussed with Treasury staff the timing of the release of a report on IRS abuses. But Obama wasn't told about any of the developments, Carney told reporters.
One of Graham's Senate colleagues said the scandals threaten Obama's moral standing to be president.
"Nobody questions his legal authority, but I think he’s really losing the moral authority," Kentucky's Rand Paul said on ABC's "This Week."
"I don’t care whether you’re a Republican or Democrat, nobody likes to see the opposite party punishing you for your political beliefs."
Graham also maligned efforts by Justice Department officials to get their hands on the emails of James Rosen, a Fox News reporter, and to obtain phone records from several journalists at The Associated Press.
The Obama administration has been the most zealous in contemporary U.S. history in pursuing those it suspects of leaking information to the media. In Rosen's case, the Justice Department says it wanted the emails because of his contact with a State Department official suspected of leaking information about North Korea.
"James Rosen is a lot of things, but a criminal co-conspirator he is not," Graham said. "We're beginning to criminalize journalism, and I think that should worry us all."
Other Republicans have been more cautious than Graham about the notion of a special prosecutor. That's because Attorney General Eric Holder would be the person to appoint such a prosecutor, something they say would place him in a conflict of interest if the probe involved the conduct of his own Justice Department.
A special prosecutor is appointed by the country's attorney general if he suspects criminal wrongdoing within the federal government.
The Clinton era's Ken Starr, on the other hand, was an independent counsel appointed by a special panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals under a now-expired statute that was inspired by the Watergate scandal of the 1970s. He had unlimited funds and no deadlines.
Starr was assigned to look into a failed real estate deal involving Bill and Hillary Clinton, but he expanded his probe into the president's personal relationships, resulting in the revelation of the infamous affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
Obama has called for a review of the Justice Department's guidelines in the aftermath of the revelations. On the IRS scandal, Holder has ordered an investigation into whether criminal activity took place at the agency.
The woman at the centre of the scandal, the IRS's Lois Lerner, is also on leave after pleading the Fifth Amendment during a congressional hearing last week, essentially meaning she refused to answer any questions.
Steven Miller, the ousted IRS acting commissioner, told the hearing: "Foolish mistakes were made by people trying to be more efficient in their workload selection."
IRS officials have said that in early 2010, the agency began receiving hundreds of tax-exempt applications from Tea Party groups, raising questions about whether they were too political to qualify for a tax exemption.
The IRS unit currently on the hot seat reportedly has a long history of aggressively targeting an array of tax-exempt groups, including foreclosure-assistance charities, credit-counseling services and New York Jewish charities.
While Republicans have seized upon the scandals to assail the Obama administration, polls suggest neither the IRS nor the Justice Department revelations are hurting the president personally.
Obama's approval rating of 49 per cent was unchanged in a Gallup poll last week from the week previously. A CNN poll conducted at the height of the IRS and Justice Department revelations had the president with a 53 per cent approval rating, a two percentage point increase from a month earlier.
It's not that the public doesn't care about the scandals. The CNN survey suggested that respondents overwhelmingly said they were concerned about the revelations, but were not linking Obama personally to the events.Suggest a correction