White House Press Secretary Jay Carney on Tuesday revealed some rather startling details about how the Obama White House operates.
First, Carney defended Kathryn Ruemmler’s alleged decision to not inform the Commander-in-Chief about the impending Internal Revenue Service scandal because – well, she simply decided that the president shouldn’t be informed about it.
“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.
Second, according to Carney, the president is aware pretty much everyone in his administration knew about the IG’s report before him – and he’s okay with that.
Third, the White House knew well in advance of the release of the IG report that things weren’t going to go over so well and they actually coordinated with the IRS on how to present the public with the IG’s findings.
“There was ‘discussion about the possibility of a speech’ by Lois Lerner, who oversaw the IRS’s work on tax-exempt groups,” Politico explains, citing Carney, “and conversation about testimony by the acting commissioner of the agency and ‘what he would say’ if asked about the issue.”
Now the first two points raise serious questions about the president’s leadership style (just who’s running this country anyway?). But the third point is equally troubling because it calls into question the White House’s account of events.
The Treasury Department, according to the press secretary, worked with deputy White House chief of staff Mark Childress to coordinate the release of the IRS news.
Carney, however, was careful to note that he was among those who were not informed of White House’s attempts to contain the story.
But whether he knew the exact details or not, Carney knew of the report and of the upcoming scandal. Why didn’t he say anything?
“He also said he didn’t inform reporters about the discussions earlier because he hadn’t been asked ‘precise’ enough questions,” Politico notes.
“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.
But, again, the words coming out of Carney’s mouth raise serious questions about the White House’s supposedly honesty account of events.
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 chief of staff Denis 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.
“I said that I didn’t know (these details) until Friday, but I’m getting this information to you now,” he said.
BONUS: CBS New’s Major Garrett during Tuesday’s press briefing asked Carney if the White House believes Republican inquiries about recent scandals (i.e. the IRS, the DOJ snooping on the AP and Fox News, Sebelius’ fundraising efforts, and the administration’s handling of the Benghazi debacle) are “legitimate.”
“We could go down the list of questions — we could say, ‘What about the president’s birth certificate? Was that legitimate?’” Carney said.
Follow Becket Adams (@BecketAdams) on Twitter
Featured image Getty Images. This post has been updated.