Update at 6:10 p.m. ET: White House: IRS was 'Inappropriate':
White House press secretary Jay Carney called the IRS actions "inappropriate" and said they should be investigated.
Carney, speaking to reporters Friday afternoon, noted that the Internal Revenue Service is an independent agency with only two political appointees.
Here's our original post:
Saying that it was wrong, insensitive and inappropriate, a top official from the Internal Revenue Service apologized Friday to conservative groups that were singled out for additional IRS scrutiny during the 2012 campaign.
The Associated Press writes that Lois Lerner, who heads the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt groups, said at a conference sponsored by the American Bar Association:
"That the practice was initiated by low-level workers in Cincinnati and was not motivated by political bias. After her talk, she told The AP that no high level IRS officials knew about the practice. She did not say when they found out."
Lerner said some organizations that included the words "tea party" or "patriot" in applications for tax-exempt status were put through unnecessary, additional reviews, the AP adds.
As The Hill notes:
"A number of conservative outside groups complained in 2012 that they were being unfairly targeted by the IRS. Some groups classified as tax-exempt charities are allowed to carry out political activities as long as it's not their primary focus, though the law is a bit murky on what constitutes too much pure election activity."
Lerner told the conference that about 75 organizations that were "tea party" or "patriot" groups were singled out. She said the extra scrutiny came in part because there was a surge in applications from groups seeking tax-exempt status. As reviewers searched for signs that some of the groups might be engaging in political activity (which could disqualify them from being granted tax-exempt status), they looked for keywords. Among those that the reviewers looked for were "tea party" and "patriot."
One of the groups, the Tea Party Patriots, has released a statement rejecting the apology. It says, in part:
"The IRS has demonstrated the most disturbing, illegal and outrageous abuse of government power," said Jenny Beth Martin, National Coordinator for Tea Party Patriots. "This deliberate targeting and harassment of tea party groups reaches a new low in illegal government activity and overreach. It is suspicious that the activity of these 'low-level workers' was unknown to IRS leadership at the time it occurred. President Obama must also apologize for his administration ignoring repeated complaints by these broad grassroots organizations of harassment by the IRS in 2012, and make concrete and transparent steps today to ensure this never happens again. We reject a simple apology that does nothing to alleviate the danger of this happening again."
NPR's Peter Overby is due to have more about this later today on All Things Considered. Click here to find an NPR station that broadcasts or streams the show. Also watch It's All Politics for more.