White House Counsel Knew Of IRS Investigation “Weeks Ago”
The Wall Street Journal is out today with a report that the White House Counsel’s Office was aware of the Inspector General’s investigation of IRS political targeting several weeks ago:
The White House’s chief lawyer learned weeks ago that an audit of the Internal Revenue Service likely would show that agency employees inappropriately targeted conservative groups, a senior White House official said Sunday.
That disclosure has prompted a debate over whether the president should have been notified at that time.
In the week of April 22, the Office of the White House Counsel and its head, Kathryn Ruemmler, were told by Treasury Department attorneys that an inspector general’s report was nearing completion, the White House official said. In that conversation, Ms. Ruemmler learned that “a small number of line IRS employees had improperly scrutinized certain…organizations by using words like ‘tea party’ and ‘patriot,’ ” the official said.
President Barack Obama said last week he learned about the controversy at the same time as the public, on May 10, when an IRS official revealed it to a conference of lawyers. The president’s statement drew criticism, focusing attention on his management style and whether he has kept himself sufficiently informed about the agencies under his authority.
Others, including veterans of previous scandals, said the counsel—whose role is to advise the president on all legal matters concerning his job and the White House—was right to avoid telling Mr. Obama about the audit’s early findings. Doing so could have caused a new storm by creating the appearance of meddling in an independent investigation that hadn’t yet concluded, former officials said.
The White House, which declined to make Ms. Ruemmler available for comment Sunday, wouldn’t say whether she shared the information with anyone else in the senior administration staff.
The new detail doesn’t help answer some fundamental questions about the IRS scandal, including how it began and who, if anyone, in the administration was aware of the severity of the inspector general’s probe before last November’s presidential election.
Instead, it focuses attention on the White House’s handling of the matter, which has blown up into the kind of crisis that could persist.
When findings are so potentially damaging, the president should immediately be informed, said Lanny Davis, who served as a special counsel to President Bill Clinton.
Several conservative bloggers have jumped on this story as if it demonstrates some kind of evidence of scandal, but I’m just not seeing it. The White House has already said several times that nobody in the Executive Office of the President was aware of the activities at the IRS until the Counsel’s Office was informed about the soon to be completed Inspector General’s report sometime at the end of April. The President has said that he didn’t personally become aware of the story until it became public about ten days ago. To date there’s no evidence to contradict either of these assertions and, indeed, the Wall Street Journal report would seem to corroborate the White House’s claims on both counts.
So, where’s the “scandal” here? Frankly I don’t see it.