US tax agency chief Steve Miller has had to leave his job after it emerged his staff had singled out conservative groups for extra scrutiny.
President Barack Obama announced his departure on Wednesday.
Obama said the Treasury Secretary had asked for and accepted the resignation of Miller, who was acting commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
“I have reviewed the Treasury Department watchdog’s report and the misconduct that it uncovered is inexcusable. It is inexcusable and Americans are right to be angry about it and I am angry about it,” Obama told reporters.
“I will not tolerate this kind of behaviour in any agency but especially in the IRS given the power that it has and the reach that it has in all of our lives.
“Given the controversy surrounding this audit it is important to institute new leadership that can help restore confidence going forward.”
Requests for tax-exempt status by groups associated with the conservative Tea Party movement are said to have been subjected to “overly aggressive” reviews.
The US Justice Department has launched a criminal investigation.
The IRS controversy is one of several points of weakness in the Obama administration that Republicans are seeking to exploit. Senior Republicans such as former Vice-President Dick Cheney and one-time presidential candidate John McCain have slammed what they say was a government ‘cover-up’ of an attack on the US embassy in the Libyan town of Benghazi last September. The allegation is that Obama and his team downplayed the involvement of al-Qaeda cells in the attack in order not to harm Obama’s re-election chances. On Wednesday the White House released 99 pages of e-mails between various agencies including the CIA, the State Department and the FBI that government officials claim prove there was no organised cover-up.
And Obama is also under fire for restricting press freedom after it emerged the US Justice Department secretly seized phone records of Associated Press. It’s widely believed US authorities subpoenaed the records to try to identify who provided information about an alleged terrorist plot in Yemen. The US Attorney’s Office has said it values press freedom but is obliged to balance these with national security and public interest.