Former IRS Commissioner: I visited WH once in four years; Update: Did Shulman actually attend those meetings? Update: Daily Caller responds
posted at 1:21 pm on May 31, 2013 by Ed Morrissey
Former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman visited the White House so often that he averaged one visit per week, far more than most if not all of Obama’s Cabinet members. His successor, Steve Miller, visited about once a month, according to White House logs. Shulman visited the West Wing three times more often than his boss, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, in the same period.
What about Shulman’s predecessor? Bill O’Reilly interviewed Mark Everson, whose 2003-7 tenure came directly before Shulman’s. Everson had a slightly lower rate of White House visits as IRS Commissioner, averaging one per … lifetime:
Former IRS commissioner Douglas Shulman’s 157 White House visits is an “unusual fact pattern,” according to another former commissioner of the agency.
“I only went over there, to my recollection, once on a policy matter,” Mark Everson, who served from 2003 to 2007, told Bill O’Reilly last night. (He explained that it was an interagency policy meeting on immigration reform.)
Although Everson said Shulman probably would have had more reasons to go to the White House because of the IRS’s role in implementing the Affordable Care Act, he still found the frequency of Shulman’s visits, from 2008 to 2012, surprising, especially given that it was even higher than the secretaries of state and defense. “That’s an unusual fact pattern,” Everson chuckled.
It is an unusual fact pattern, as Megan McArdle writes at The Daily Beast. While McArdle doesn’t believe that it’s evidence of a conspiracy of wrongdoing, the White House and Shulman need to explain his near-constant presence in the West Wing nonetheless:
Last week, conservatives were saying that former IRS head Douglas Shulman had been to the White House 118 times, while his predecessor had visited the Bush era White House only once. I didn’t write about it because I idly assumed that this reflected some underlying change in administration management style or legislative priorities; perhaps, for example, he’d been there talking about Obamacare implementation and changes in tax enforcement.
But the Daily Caller has now compiled a list of White House visits by various administration officials, and Shulman sure does seem to visit a lot more than other folks.
Shulman initially told Congress that he was needed to plan the implementation of ObamaCare. McArdle rejects that explantion for a reason that becomes obvious when one sees the graphic supplied by the Daily Caller. Kathleen Sebelius has by far the most responsibility for ObamaCare implementation, and as HHS Secretary is also an Obama Cabinet official who’s supposed to report directly to the White House, unlike an IRS Commissioner, who should be reporting to the Secretary of the Treasury (or more likely a Deputy Secretary). However, Kathleen Sebelius visited the White House less than 50 times in the same period as Shulamn’s 157 visits, and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner had the same number as Sebelius.
McArdle sets up a rather simple and telling test for the Obama administration on transparency:
Nonetheless, I think the White House should explain this. Maybe the Daily Caller has missed people who came to the White House more often, or otherwise made a mistake with the data. Or maybe they haven’t. But presumably the administration knows why Shulman was there–there will be day planning entries, memos, meeting notes, and so forth. Since I presume that these meetings were innocent, they should release them.
And if they don’t, well, expect the House Oversight Committee to subpoena them. If the White House claims executive privilege, perhaps McArdle’s presumption will change.
Investors Business Daily wants an explanation too — and is much more skeptical of why an IRS Commissioner got called to the West Wing on a weekly basis:
We are asked to believe that these visits, which included one Easter Egg roll, were merely to discuss the IRS’ role in enforcing ObamaCare with fees, taxes and penalties — a frightening-enough prospect — and that discussion of the IRS’ targeting of the Tea Party and letters from 132 members of Congress complaining about the abuse of federal power never came up.
We are also asked to believe that the IRS, the enforcement body of ObamaCare, on its own initiative, decided to harass and intimidate Tea Party groups that arose out of opposition to ObamaCare and dealt the administration a heavy blow by giving the GOP control of the House in 2010.
Some have said the IRS actions were prompted by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which held that the First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting political independent expenditures by corporations, associations or labor unions. We would suggest another pivotal moment was Scott Brown’s election as Republican senator from Massachusetts after he campaigned as the 41st vote against ObamaCare.
What we do believe is that the IRS actions were politically motivated and organized at the highest levels of the Obama administration.
Let’s hope that a robust investigation of everyone involved will make it clear what was going on at the IRS and in Shulman’s regular visits to the White House.
Update: For a contrary opinion on this point, be sure to read Yuval Levin at The Corner:
I was a mid-level staffer in the Bush White House, working on HHS issues. If I or a colleague were to have a meeting with the Secretary of HHS, we would often go to him, since he was a cabinet secretary and we weren’t. He would come to the White House to meet with the president, chief of staff, or very senior advisors, which happens more rarely than staff-level meetings. But if we were going to meet with, say, the commissioner of the FDA rather than the secretary, he would be much more likely to come to the White House.
I suspect the IRS commissioner would do the same. He would probably attend deputies-level meetings, or maybe even PCC meetings (policy coordinating committee, one level below the deputies) at the White House on issues central to his agency. The sheer number of White House visits by Shulman is no doubt striking, but to me precisely that high number suggests a pattern of regular repeating meetings—like a regular weekly or biweekly meeting. In the course of an intense policy process around Obamacare implementation, for instance, it’s easy to imagine a regular deputies-level meeting, and you can be sure the commissioner of the IRS, which is central to that implementation, would be there.
That doesn’t mean Shulman didn’t tell White House officials about the agency’s targeting of conservative groups or coordinate with them, though it doesn’t mean he did. It’s certainly an extremely high volume of meetings, and it surely sheds a light on the problematic role of the IRS in Obamacare implementation, if nothing else. But I don’t see a necessary or even likely connection to the shocking misbehavior of the agency and its leaders toward conservative groups. Why would coordinating that behavior with the White House (if that’s what’s being implied) have required 157 meetings?
It would be helpful (and entirely appropriate) if the White House explained what these meetings were about. Deep suspicion of the IRS is very clearly warranted, and the White House should acknowledge that. But I think it’s a mistake for critics of the agency’s outrageous mistreatment of conservative groups to focus on this question of meetings. It’s a distraction from the very real and serious scandal here and so takes away from the attention and scrutiny the IRS should be getting, and it just doesn’t seem like much of a red flag.
I think Levin’s still making the McArdle case here, though, which is that this is unusual enough — especially with Everson’s testimony — that the White House needs to offer a clear and detailed explanation. If they have one, fine. If not, well …
Meanwhile, The Corner’s Jonah Goldberg has a more humorous take on it, and thinks there’s more going on here than Levin does:
“It’s like asking someone why you were at Hooters a hundred times last year, and all he says is ‘They have chicken wings!'” Yes, that’s a keeper.
Update: The Atlantic’s Garance Franke-Ruta disputes the Daily Caller’s data:
And yet the public meeting schedules available for review to any media outlet show that very thing: Shulman was cleared primarily to meet with administration staffers involved in implementation of the health-care reform bill. He was cleared 40 times to meet with Obama’s director of the Office of Health Reform, and a further 80 times for the biweekly health reform deputies meetings and others set up by aides involved with the health-care law implementation efforts. That’s 76 percent of his planned White House visits just there, before you even add in all the meetings with Office of Management and Budget personnel also involved in health reform.
Complicating the picture is the fact that just because a meeting was scheduled and Shulman was cleared to attend it does not mean that he actually went. Routine events like the biweekly health-care deputies meeting would have had a standing list of people cleared to attend, people whose White House appointments would have been logged and forwarded to the check-in gate. But there is no time of arrival information in the records to confirm that Shulman actually signed in and went to these standing meetings.
Indeed, of the 157 events Shulman was cleared to attend, White House records only provide time of arrival information — confirming that he actually went to them — for 11 events over the 2009-2012 period, and time of departure information for only six appointments. According to the White House records, Shulman signed in twice in 2009, five times in 2010, twice in 2011, and twice in 2012. That does not mean that he did not go to other meetings, only that the White House records do not show he went to the 157 meetings he was granted Secret Service clearance to attend.
If the Daily Caller has an update, I’ll post it here.
Update: Vince Coglianese responds by pointing out that this is just another version of the incompetence defense:
The liberal Atlantic website published a piece Friday morning speculating that the number of Shulman’s actual White House visits could be as low as 11, despite widespread coverage of those revelations on Thursday.
“Complicating the picture is the fact that just because a meeting was scheduled and Shulman was cleared to attend it does not mean that he actually went,” wrote The Atlantic, suggesting that Shulman may have skipped out on up to 146 different White House meetings he was expected at — despite his name appearing on the visitors logs for those meetings.
The Atlantic offers no source for that claim, but Dan Pfeiffer — White House senior adviser to the president for strategy and communications — latched onto the article Friday morning on his official White House Twitter account. “Def Worth a Read,” Pfeiffer tweeted, marking the first time the White House has addressed Shulman’s unusually frequent visits.
The claim that White House visitor records might only show information about a visitor’s pre-clearance — and not an actual visit — is not something the White House reveals in its disclosure policy. Additionally, as TheDC has previously reported, not every visit by top administration officials requires that the official physically signs in.
Some visits by top officials are never even noted in the visitors logs. A comparison of the situation room photo from the night of the bin Laden raid — May 1, 2011 — to the visitor logs, for example, shows that several of the officials in the photo never appear in the public access records.
The White House voluntary disclosure policy does reveal that visitor names are often left off the logs for a variety of reasons — listed below — including personal visitors of the president and national security.
While the White House has fought to keep individuals who fall under those exceptions away from the public eye, Friday’s pushback against Shulman’s name appearing 157 times in the logs appears to mark the first time the White House has suggested that visitors who appear in the access records may not have visited at all.
The White House did not respond to The Daily Caller’s multiple requests for comment for clarification, for either this report or Thursday’s.