Progress? Journalists notice “shifting” White House account of IRS scandal
posted at 2:01 pm on May 21, 2013 by Ed Morrissey
I’m not talking about conservative publications either, but outlets that normally would allow Barack Obama and his team the benefit of the doubt. Bloomberg starts us off with a straight report on the changing explanations:
Carney said Ruemmler was informed by the Treasury Department’s General Counsel’s office April 24 that the Inspector General for Tax Administration was completing a report that found that IRS employees improperly scrutinized political organizations seeking tax exempt status by searching their applications for words including “Tea Party” and “patriot.”
The previous week, on April 16, Ruemmler had learned more generally that there were a number of Inspector General reports being finalized and an IRS investigation was among those investigations, Carney said.
Carney’s comments today are at odds with what he told reporters last week, when he said the White House counsel “only found out about the review being conducted and coming to conclusion by the inspector general.”
Next up is Politico, which ran Reid Epstein’s analysis of the fifth version of the White House account of what was known and who knew it last night:
The White House on Monday once again added to the list of people who knew about the IRS investigation into its targeting of conservative groups — saying White House chief of staff Denis McDonough had been informed about a month ago.
Press secretary Jay Carney said again that no one had told President Barack Obama ahead of the first news reports: not his top aide McDonough, nor his chief counsel Kathy Ruemmler, nor anyone from the Treasury Department.
Monday’s revelation amounts to the fifth iteration of the Obama administration’s account of events, after initially saying that the White House had first learned of the controversy from the press.
Republicans said they were on the lookout for the next installment in the White House’s ever-shifting narrative.
It’s gotten so bad that Epstein had to supply a timeline to keep the stories straight. Maybe that will help Jay Carney in his next press briefing explain just how little anyone knows about what’s happening in their own administration.
National Journal’s Ron Fournier, a well-respected political analyst, wonders why anyone would bother to believe any of the ever-changing versions regarding the IRS scandal, even though Fournier clearly wants to do so:
Knowing the consequences that would befall the Obama administration if the White House or Obama’s re-election campaign knew in real time that the IRS was targeting conservatives, I desperately want to believe Pfeiffer. I’ve known him for years. I like him. He’s never lied to me.
But Pfeiffer is part of an institution that has demonstrated an inability and/or unwillingness to tell the full truth about the IRS scandal and a spate of other controversies. The White House can’t be trusted.
That depressing conclusion (not unique to the Obama White House, sadly) was driven home Monday when spokesman Jay Carney used his daily briefing to announce that presidential advisers knew more about the IRS scandal a bit sooner than previously disclosed. …
And yet the revelations cost the Obama White House some measure of credibility. In politics, as in life, when you constantly change your story, even on small matters, you sew doubt about your credibility and competence.
In different ways, each of the so-called Obama scandals revolve around the issue of trust (as I wrote here, here,here, here, and here). The president’s greatest asset is his credibility. If this pattern of spinning and shifting stories continues, it could become a liability.
Howard Fineman simply can’t believe that the White House is this inept:
The aides either have forgetten or are unable to implement the basic lesson of scandal control in Washington: Get the full story out — all of it — as fast as you can before your critics accuse you of a cover-up or worse.
It’s been only a week since the president told the world that he had learned about the “outrageous” actions of the IRS’ Cincinnati office from “news reports” on May 10. We now know that those reports stemmed from a disclosure the administration had planned and that, in fact, “senior officials” in the White House knew the essence of a damning inspector general’s report on the matter as early as April 24.
From the start, the White House’s response on this potentially explosive matter has been grudging at best and, in retrospect, ignorant or arrogant or both.
Of course, inept only applies if the White House didn’t really know what the IRS was doing. That seems to still be Fournier’s assumption, but Fineman is starting to get skeptical:
With two winning presidential campaigns built on successful grassroots fundraising, with a former White House counsel (in 2010-11) who is one of the Democrats’ leading experts on campaign law (Bob Bauer), with former top campaign officials now ensconced as staffers in the White House (David Axelrod and Dan Pfeiffer among others), it’s hard to imagine that the Obama inner circle was oblivious to the issue of what the IRS was doing in Cincinnati.
That may well be true. Maybe they didn’t care one whit what the IG was going to say. But they sure haven’t been behaving that way in the last week.
There are two ways to look at the shifting stories and seeming incompetence. If the White House was truly ignorant of what the IRS was doing and got blindsided by the IG report, then the fumbling is a demonstration of inexplicable incompetence from a team noted for its messaging savvy. If, however, the White House was well aware of the targeting of conservatives and needed to keep that from becoming public knowledge, then the shifting stories as more revelations arise makes … a lot more sense.