Former Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Douglas Shulman liked to visit the Obama White House -- a lot. In fact, according to a chart released Wednesday by a conservative news site, Shulman supposedly visited the White House at least 157 times between 2009 and 2012:
But there's a lot more to this story. Let’s start with the reactions.
“157 times!” Fox News host Bill O’Reilly said on Thursday. “By comparison then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton went to the White House forty-three times. Then CIA Director Leon Panetta twenty times. So what the heck was Mr. Shulman doing at the White House with that kind of frequency?”
“[Shulman] must explain under oath what you were doing at the White House on 157 separate occasions,” O’Reilly added.
And while the number 157 does seem awfully high – indeed, even suspicious – we have to dig much deeper to figure out what’s going on here.
Former IRS Commissioner Mark Everson, for example, told O’Reilly that Schulman may have paid so many visits because the Obama administration “was considering tax reform and also healthcare, in which the service has a major role.”
“So, the service needs to be part of conversations about what is going to happen if that bill becomes law. So that’s totally legitimate,” Everson added.
But O’Reilly wasn’t satisfied, repeating that the above chart shows Shulman visited the White House far more than any other administration official:
So what? Does this mean Shulman was constantly at the White House as part of some larger scheme to target conservative groups?
Frequent Fox News guest Kirsten Powers said Thursday that the whole thing seems “a little disingenuous” considering the fact that getting approval from the Secret Service doesn’t actually mean Shulman attended every event:
So who’s right? Is Powers correct to be skeptical? Or is O’Reilly correct to demand Shulman and the White House explain his visits?
Well, both are correct, really. We need to be skeptical and we need the White House to clear this up.
First, it’s important to note that the White House Visitor Records (see here) is not a reliable tool.
Indeed, after the above chart was first released, we did a little extra digging and compared the White House’s numbers to other search engines designed to account for visits to the people’s house.
When we compared the Washington Post's numbers to the numbers reported in the original chart, we found major discrepancies (but there was also a common theme):
Likewise, when we tried another search tool, the one provided here on TheBlaze, the numbers were again different. Still, there was a common theme -- Shulman appeared on the visitors log a lot:
Now there are a couple of things that need to be explained: First, using the White House Visitor Records to search for the name “Douglas Shulman” will indeed get you plenty of hits for “Douglas Shulman.” But for certain Obama administration officials you will also get a whole bunch of similar first and last names -- and you will also be flooded with conflicting middle initials (or no middle initial at all).
So, in an attempt to accurate, we removed results that contained differing middle initials from the above charts (but we kept the middle initial-less results).
The reason we mention all of this is to underscore that fact that the White House Visitor Records tool, the same tool that the original chart is based on, is not exactly accurate -- and that’s really all we're trying to say.
“The log may include some scheduled visits that did not take place and exclude visits by members of Congress, top officials and others who are not required to sign in at security gates," the Washington Post's database warns.
This is why we need to be skeptical of the numbers and focus on what we know about White House check-in procedures.
“[J]ust because a meeting was scheduled and Shulman was cleared to attend it does not mean that he actually went. Routine events like the biweekly health-care deputies meeting would have had a standing list of people cleared to attend, people whose White House appointments would have been logged and forwarded to the check-in gate,” The Atlantic notes.
“But there is no time of arrival information in the records to confirm that Shulman actually signed in and went to these standing meetings,” the report adds.
It continues [emphasis added]:
Indeed, of the 157 events Shulman was cleared to attend, White House records only provide time of arrival information -- confirming that he actually went to them -- for 11 events over the 2009-2012 period, and time of departure information for only six appointments. According to the White House records, Shulman signed in twice in 2009, five times in 2010, twice in 2011, and twice in 2012. That does not mean that he did not go to other meetings, only that the White House records do not show he went to the 157 meetings he was granted Secret Service clearance to attend.
The real problem with combing through the White House visitor logs is that they were a system designed for Secret Service clearance and White House security, not as comprehensive means of documenting every visitor to the White House, high to low. They miss the top end and some of the social end of people visiting the White House -- people who are cleared through separate processes designed to protect presidential security other than getting swiped in at the front gate for an appointment.
To put it plainly, and to repeat our earlier point, the White House visitor logs are not exactly reliable. Indeed, as The Center for Public Integrity notes, the system has quite a few holes.
But here’s another important thing we know based on the best information we have:
The vast majority of Shulman's scheduled meetings were to take place in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building -- 115 of them. Another three were slated for the NEOB. That leaves just 25 percent of the meetings in the White House itself, or on its South Lawn.
When the records say “White House,” it actually means the entire complex.
And yet another important point: Shulman was not a cabinet member, meaning he most likely did not have the same type of access to the White House that, say, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder have.
"The visitor logs do not give a complete picture of White House access. Some high-level officials get cleared for access and do not have to sign in during visits," TheDC notes.
As top-ranking cabinet members, Sebelius and Holder are presumably pre-cleared for White House meetings. On the other hand, it would make sense that as a non-cabinet member such as Shulman would have to be cleared and entered in the White House log multiple times.
This means that the difference between Shulman's visits and Obama cabinet members' visits may not be that great, undermining the claim that the former IRS chief made more visits than anyone else.
Now don't get us wrong: compared to Mark Everson (who claims to have visited the White House only once during his entire 2003-2007 term), Shulman visited the White House a lot. Perhaps more than necessary. Our only point is that the number of actual White House meetings is suspect.
Still, Shulman admitted under oath that he had visited the White House at least 118 times between 2010 and 2011:
Now perhaps he meant “White House” as in “the entire complex” or he meant it as in “the place where the president lives.”
As of this writing, it’s unclear. A clarification from the White House would be greatly appreciated.
Also, though the Obama administration is the first to make visitor logs available, it's painfully obvious that the feds have a lot more work to do before anyone can say that the records are both comprehensive and reliable.
The White House press office did not immediately respond to TheBlaze's request for comment.
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Featured image AP photo. This post has been updated.