You keep using that word “if.” I do not think it means what you think it means.

The White House revealed an interesting new threshold today for determining whether a wrongdoing has occurred. In the case of the IRS scandal, an admission and apology from the agency is not enough to say that its actions were “inappropriate,” according to White House Press Secretary Jay Carney. President Obama used the same oddly conditional construction Monday in his press conference. Instead of acknowledging improper behavior has already occurred, both Obama and Carney are in patented, Obama administration “wait for the investigation” mode, which conveniently precludes them accepting any responsibility for the admitted wrongdoing or promising specific action to rectify it.

Rich Lowry noted a plan being put into action:

To which I’d add Step 4: “That IRS story happened a long time ago.”

Here are reporters asking about the White House’s repeated use of the word “if” in describing the IRS’ misdeeds, and Carney’s response:

“If I could then go back to the IRS issue,” said a reporter from the AP. “The president did use the word ‘if these activities had taken place,’ but there has been an acknowledgement on the part of the IRS leadership that these things did indeed occur. I wondered why the president used that phrasing in claiming that it was outrageous?”

“Those from the IRS that have spoken about this obviously have much greater insight into what took place than we do. We have not seen the report. We have not independently collected information about what transpired. We need the independent inspector general’s report to be released before we can make judgments. One person’s view of what actions were taken or what that individual did is not enough for us to say something concretely happened that was inappropriate,” said Carney.

Later in the same press conference, Carney seemed to contradict himself when responding to another reporter’s question: “Don’t we know that part of it is fact? It’s not in the if area anymore. It’s fact.”

“I agree with that, and I think that was reflected in the tone and the nature of the comments you saw from the president,” Carney replied before reverting to “wait for the facts” mode and reserving judgment once again. The motivation for the misdeeds and the question of the extent of the scandal and Obama involvement can be up in the air, but the inappropriateness of the scrutiny has already been established. Obama and Carney can even read about that in press reports, where they find out everything else.

It wasn’t the only point on which Carney contradicted himself Tuesday. Early in the press conference, a reporter asked if he could “categorically deny” that anyone in the White House or on his political team was involved in or had knowledge of the IRS’s improper scrutiny of conservative organizations. Carney quickly said “yes,” but was later pressed on that assertion. Watch how fast it gets downgraded:

Categorical denial——> “I have no reason to believe.” ——> “I can tell you I’m not aware of anyone here knowing about it.”——> “I am certainly not aware of and confident that no one here was involved in it.” ——> “I think I can say that I feel confident in that.”——> “You’re asking me to prove a negative.”

An IRS admission of wrongdoing isn’t enough to prove wrongdoing, but Carney’s general hunch, absent thorough interviews of White House and political staff, was enough to categorically deny involvement.

Another point out of that exchange: The White House Counsel’s office knew for several weeks that an IG report would show this kind of clearly inappropriate action against the president’s ideological adversaries and didn’t tell Carney or the president, so he found out through press reports Friday?

Let’s end with Carney pretty much reduced to trolling Chuck Todd during a tough exchange about Obama’s position the press and DOJ’s powers: “You’re obviously free to ask him the next time he has a press conference.” Good one, Jay.

And, for good measure, I’m trolling Carney.