We first heard last week that the chief White House counsel knew for weeks about the IRS practice of targeting conservatives, when Lanny Davis called for the resignation of Kathryn Ruemmler — if she didn’t notify Barack Obama of it when she first learned it. At the time, Davis wrote that “several reporters” had tipped him off to Ruemmler’s knowledge of the practice. Now the Wall Street Journal and NBC’s Chuck Todd both report that the top lawyer in the White House did indeed know about the scandal for weeks before it broke publicly:
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.
Todd updates NBC viewers, and hints at the real question:
The real question is similar to that facing Douglas Shulman and Steve Miller at the IRS. If the chief counsel there knew about the targeting in August 2011, would he have left the top executive in the organization in the dark? Would the top lawyer neglect to tell the executive for months about wrongdoing in the agency, especially when the top executives prepared for testimony to Congress and the topic was likely to arise? That seems very, very doubtful, and if the counsel testifies that Shulman and Miller had been informed of it, both could end up facing criminal charges and years in prison.
The stakes are less high for Obama, but the same question applies. How could the top White House lawyer sit on the knowledge that the IRS had targeted the President’s political opponents without informing the President? Answer: Either Ruemmler was incredibly incompetent or the White House is lying about when Obama knew of the scandal. We got a big hint in last week’s press conference that it’s the latter, when Obama changed the context of a question about his awareness of the scandal to his awareness of the IG report, which is pointedly not the same thing.
Addendum: Maybe Ruemmler didn’t bother to let Obama know because she figured he already knew. Jeffrey Lord at American Spectator finds a little circumstantial evidence that might explain the timing of the IRS efforts to target the Tea Party:
According to the White House Visitors Log, provided here in searchable form by U.S. News and World Report, the president of the anti-Tea Party National Treasury Employees Union, Colleen Kelley, visited the White House at 12:30pm that Wednesday noon time of March 31st.
The White House lists the IRS union leader’s visit this way:
Kelley, Colleen Potus 03/31/2010 12:30
In White House language, “POTUS” stands for “President of the United States.”
The very next day after her White House meeting with the President, according to the Treasury Department’s Inspector General’s Report, IRS employees — the same employees who belong to the NTEU — set to work in earnest targeting the Tea Party and conservative groups around America. The IG report wrote it up this way:
April 1-2, 2010: The new Acting Manager, Technical Unit, suggested the need for a Sensitive Case Report on the Tea Party cases. The Determinations Unit Program Manager Agreed.
In short: the very day after the president of the quite publicly anti-Tea Party labor union — the union for IRS employees — met with President Obama, the manager of the IRS “Determinations Unit Program agreed” to open a “Sensitive Case report on the Tea party cases.” As stated by the IG report.
The NTEU is the 150,000 member union that represents IRS employees along with 30 other separate government agencies. Kelley herself is a 14-year IRS veteran agent. The union’s PAC endorsed President Obama in both 2008 and 2012, and gave hundreds of thousands of dollars in the 2010 and 2012 election cycles to anti-Tea Party candidates.
Putting IRS employees in the position of actively financing anti-Tea Party candidates themselves, while in their official positions in the IRS blocking, auditing, or intimidating Tea Party and conservative groups around the country.
At the least, it seems awfully coincidental.
Update: Hot Air reader and Twitter follower MStevensG8r suggests this clip each time the White House and/or Obama himself claims to have just found out about something the administration did from the newspapers:
This probably goes with Bob Schieffer’s “dumb and dumber” blast at the administration better, but I’d rather feature it here first.