IRS Scandal for Dummies, Part 2 of 2

 

The White House version:

 

On April 24, 2013, White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler heard about an upcoming inspector general’s report on the IRS. She received a thumbnail sketch of a disturbing finding: that the IRS had improperly targeted tea party and other conservative groups.

 

She knew immediately that she had a problem, so she shared the news with White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and other senior White House aides, who all recognized the danger of the findings. They agreed that it would be best not to share it with President Obama until the independent audit was completed and made public. This decision was in part intended to protect him from even the appearance of trying to influence an investigation.

 

But Ruemmler and McDonough’s plan was thwarted on May 10. On that day, Lois Lerner, a senior IRS official, broke the news by admitting that the IRS had given extra scrutiny to conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status. She did so by planting a question designed to expose the story, thus allowing IRS to get in front of the embarrassing news, and control it.

 

Senior White House officials had not anticipated this IRS ploy. Lerner had created a communications disaster for an administration that appeared not to know what its agencies were up to.

 

 

Unanswered Questions:

 

What (or who) prompted the IRS abuses in the first place?

 

Deputy Treasury Secretary Wolin learned about the IG probe sometime in 2012. Some members of Congress found out about it. IRS officials learned details of abuses in the agency. But Jack Lew, Treasury Secretary, didn’t know about it until March 15, 2013? How could it possibly be that Wolin failed to share such vital information with his boss? Could Lew really be that clueless? That out of the loop? That out of touch with his own agency? That incompetent?

 

How likely is it that Meade, during his 5 meetings at the White House from mid- to late 2012, failed to mention to Ruemmler anything about the IG’s investigation of the IRS? Here are two lawyers talking shop, but one of the most important legal issues facing both of them and their bosses is never discussed? It is supremely important to both of them, because it was explosive, politically damaging, and embarrassing to the administration. Of course they were both determined to protect the president, but how could Ruemmler do that if she was kept in the dark? It appears that either Meade is grossly incompetent, or Ruemmler is lying about when she found out about the investigation.

 

Why were senior administration aides concerned about the appearance of presidential interference in an IG investigation? The IG’s report had already been completed. Besides, they weren’t stupid enough to have any interference come from the oval office; it would have come from senior aides, who were already well aware of the report.

 

The White House strategy was for senior staff to keep mum about the whole IG investigation, and to keep the president in the dark, until the story broke, which they expected to happen when the IG report was published. Lerner’s revelation changed the timing a bit, but how did that upend the White House’s strategy? What strategic difference did it make if the story broke in April by IRS, or in May by the IG?

 

Is IRS Commissioner Shulman telling the truth? If so, he is another example of stupefying incompetence by administration officials. Why was he not doing his job between 2010 and 2012? What were taxpayers paying him for?

 

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