WASHINGTON — White House spokesman Jay Carney Tuesday evaded more media questions about the IRS scandal by professing widespread White House ignorance about the misconduct, by proclaiming the president’s virtue and by promising future action.
“We were ultimately not aware of what led to the first [media] reporting on this,” Carney said, when asked how the Internal Revenue Service revealed May 10 that its employees were targeting conservative political groups.
“I think you should ask other [agencies] about that question,” he said.
However, he also admitted that the White House’s chief counsel, Kathy Ruemmler, talked with Denis McDonough, Obama’s chief of staff, after she learned April 24 about the pending report, which described widespread IRS discrimination against conservative citizens.
Ruemmler “may have had conversations, but there was certainly an email, perhaps,” with senior staff, he said.
But he also suggested that White House officials didn’t know the report’s content.
“We did not know [the report’s contents] until the actual report was published,” he said.
But Carney’s declaration of ignorance about the report’s contents doesn’t preclude the possibility that some White House officials knew about the IRS targeting long before April 24.
“I don’t have more information to give you,” Carney told one reporter asking about the conversations between Ruemmler and McDonough.
The president’s aides kept him in the dark about the impending scandal, Carney claimed.
“It is the appropriate approach by counsel. .. It was not appropriate in this matter to alert the president about this until the report itself was complete,” he said.
Carney also declared his own ignorance about the report and the White House’s reaction. “I was not informed” about the pending report, which was released May 14, he added.
“I wasn’t privy to every conversation that [Obama] had about this, but I know that he has faith in his counsel’s judgment,” he said.
Carney also evaded questions from Ed Henry, Fox News’ correspondent, about when any White House officials first learned about the scandalous conduct at the IRS.
“The fact that IG was concluding his audit, and that the findings were at least preliminarily that there had been misconduct, we learned about it first in its full form on April 24, and prior to that, as part of a number of items, on April 16,” he said.
But Carney declined to say when officials learned about the investigation in less than its “full form.”
He added even more modifying terms in his first effort to evade Henry’s question.
“I am confident that [April 24] is when the first notification came as part of a series of items that were included in a general heads-up about pending matters to a member of the White House counsel’s office,” Carney claimed.
That tangled sentence has six modifiers —- “first notification,” “part of a series,” “included in a general heads-up” “pending matters” and “member of the White House counsel’s office.”
When asked about the president’s actions prior to the release of report, Carney declared that “there was nothing the president could or should do until the [IG] process was completed.”
“We could not take any action that would see seem to be intervening,” he insisted, as suggested that Obama couldn’t intervene in the IRS to stop or reverse the targeting of political groups.
“That’s the way the American people would expect the president would handle a question like this,” he declared.
“With respect to the White House, it is the most important fact…. [that] we do not intervene in criminal investigations and independent IG audits,” he claimed.
Carney repeatedly promised action, and mentioned a “30-day, top-down review” by the the Department of the Treasury.
Obama worked with Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew to appoint a new “IRS commissioner, who then has instituted a 30-day, top-down review to find out more about who was responsible for the unacceptable behavior, to hold them accountable and to make sure that there are processes in place that prevent this from happening again.”
He repeated “accountable” five times, and “top down” three times.