The White House’s shifting IRS account
By: Reid J. Epstein
May 20, 2013 06:41 PM EDT
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.
Here’s how the White House account has evolved:
Friday, May 10: IRS official Lois Lerner disclosed at an American Bar Association conference that the agency had targeted non-profit applications from groups with tea party language in their name.
That afternoon, Carney said he didn’t know when the White House first became aware of the investigation.
“I don’t have an answer to that specifically,” Carney said. “I know that when the IG began investigating it, that it’s been investigating it for however long the IRS has said, but I don’t have a specific answer to that.”
Outside the White House, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said that he’d first learned of the investigation from news reports.
Monday, May 13: Obama, during his press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron, said he first learned about the IRS story from the press.
“I first learned about it from the same news reports that I think most people learned about this,” Obama said. “I think it was on Friday.”
Later in the day, Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One that White House counsel Kathy Ruemmler’s office was told “in the week of April 22” that an inspector general’s report was coming “involving the office in Cincinnati.”
“But that’s all they were informed as a normal sort of heads up,” Carney said. “And we have never — we don’t have access to, nor should we, the IG’s report or any draft versions of it.”
Tuesday, May 14: The inspector general’s report was released, and Obama released a statement directing Treasury Secretary Jack Lew to “hold those responsible for these failures accountable.”
Wednesday, May 15: Acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller resigned at Obama’s request.
Thursday, May 16: Obama, during his press conference with Turkey’s prime minister, repeated that he’d been unaware of the inspector general’s report before learning about it via press reports.
“I can assure you that I certainly did not know anything about the IG report before the IG report had been leaked through the press,” Obama said. “Typically, the IG reports are not supposed to be widely distributed or shared. They tend to be a process that everybody is trying to protect the integrity of.”
Friday, May 17: Lew, during an interview with Bloomberg News, revealed he’d actually first learned of the inspector general’s investigation in March, adding that he hadn’t been aware of the details of the report until May 10.
Monday, May 20: A senior White House official confirmed to POLITICO that Treasury Department staffers told White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler the inspector general report was nearing completion during the week of April 22.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney originally acknowledged that the counsel’s office had been told of the investigation during a press briefing last Monday. But Carney didn’t explicitly say Ruemmler had learned that conservative groups were targeted and how they were singled out.
Later, during the White House briefing, Carney told reporters that some staff in the counsel’s office were told of the report — and others nearing completion — a week earlier, on April 16.
Ruemmler did inform chief of staff Denis McDonough’s office of the investigation, Carney said, and other senior staff were also told of the report. Carney wouldn’t say who those other staffers were, but did say there were communications between White House and Treasury Department staff ahead of the first news reports of the IRS investigation 10 days ago.
Though senior staff knew of the probe, Carney said Ruemmler had concluded that the investigation was “not a matter she should convey to the president” until the report was finalized.
On Monday, Carney pushed back at reporters frustrated with the shifting narrative. “I said that I didn’t know (these details) until Friday, but I’m getting this information to you now,” he said.
Republicans instantly took issue with the latest White House timeline.
“I can’t wait until tomorrow’s version of events,” tweeted Brendan Buck, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner.