White House IRS timeline shifts again
By: Reid J. Epstein
May 21, 2013 02:27 PM EDT
The White House’s explanation of what it knew about the investigation into the IRS’s scrutiny of conservative political groups and how it planned for the eventual release of that information shifted once again Tuesday.
Just a day after telling reporters that chief of staff Denis McDonough had learned of the situation nearly a month ago, press secretary Jay Carney revealed that White House officials had consulted with the Treasury Department on how to make public the findings.
The conversations “had to do with the timing of the release of the information and the findings of the actual audit,” Carney said, and were led on the White House side by Mark Childress, a deputy chief of staff.
There was “discussion about the possibility of a speech” by Lois Lerner, who oversaw the IRS’s work on tax-exempt groups, Carney said, and conversation about testimony by the acting commissioner of the agency and “what he would say” if asked about the issue.
In addition to McDonough and Childress, Carney has named only one other senior White House staffer who knew of the IRS probe: White House counsel Kathy Ruemmler, who made the decision not to inform the president of the forthcoming inspector general report on the issue.
Pressed on who else knew of the report’s existence before the first news stories about it emerged on May 10 — and how they were informed — Carney wouldn’t say much. “She may have had conversations, but there was certainly an email, perhaps,” he said of Ruemmler.
Carney had not been among the senior staff informed. He also said he didn’t inform reporters about the discussions earlier because he hadn’t been asked precise enough questions.
“I gave you the information in response to the questions and we have provided an enormous amount of information about the communication we’ve had, who learned what about this and when, the fact that the president was not informed,” he said.
Carney also compared the continued questions about what the White House did before and after news of the inspector general’s probe leaked May 10 to the debunked inquiries about Obama’s birth certificate.
And he defended the White House position of not looping in Obama about the inspector general’s report of the IRS before the news became public.
“People in the know and people who understand why it’s important to maintain distance from these kinds of things for the White House understand that that was the right call,” Carney said.
On Monday, 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.
Carney had originally acknowledged that the counsel’s office had been told of the investigation during a press briefing the previous week. But he hadn’t explicitly said Ruemmler had learned that conservative groups were targeted and how they were singled out.
Later, during Monday’s 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 McDonough’s office of the investigation, Carney said then, and other senior staff were also told of the report. Carney wouldn’t say Monday 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.