The White House acknowledged today that democrats and high level Obama cabinet members did know about the IRS doing investigations into “Tea Party” and other groups that were perceived enemies of the white house and President Obama.
In yet another colassal waffle, Obama and the white house said today that indeed they did know about the deliberate targeting by the IRS of conservative groups that wished to support republican candidates and conservative ideas.
The White House has changed its story about who knew what and when as it relates to the targeting of President Obama’s political enemies by the IRS.
While it might help with the press and public to crack down on the IRS as former President Bill Clinton once did, Obama may not be able to take on this key part of the Democratic constituency. Times have changed and so has the Democratic base.
That’s not a good thing. Prior to the story switch, the White House was able to hold the line that Team Obama had been direct and forthcoming about the IRS abuses and that the president and his top aides learned about the scandal in the news. They were just as shocked as everyone else.
But now we know that White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough was clued in about a damning report on IRS misconduct and that word was also sent to top aides to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew so his department could brace for the news. But White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was adamant that no one told President Obama.
There’s a question here about why the president’s top lawyer and chief of staff kept this news from him, even as they were spreading the word beyond the White House. One supposes it was to preserve plausible deniability for the president and to afford him the chance to express shock when word came out. It also bought Obama some more time to address the scandal.
There are some immediate repercussions to the changing story line.
First, it further damages the credibility of Carney and the White House communications team, which in recent weeks has had to fess up about misleading the press about a raid by Islamist militants on a U.S. diplomatic outpost in Libya and try to explain away the heavy-handed tactics used against reporters by the Obama Justice Department.
The president and his team have consistently limited their statements to the report on the wrongdoing, not the wrongdoing itself. It remains unclear if there had been any advance warnings sent to the White House about the misconduct itself, rather than just the report. This may prove important later when investigators are poring over emails and records, but for now it reinforces the sense that the administration is withholding.
And if it does ever come out that anyone in Obamaland had warning of the actual misconduct, legalistic answers will be little protection, especially from reporters and congressional investigators. As on the Benghazi raid, it wouldn’t be much help to rely on parsing.
Second, the Monday story shift raises some questions of competency. What kind of a White House counselor and chief of staff would try to keep a lid on a scandal that involves the most disliked federal agency targeting the president’s adversaries? Doing so in furtherance of a weak communications strategy would be very poor judgment indeed.