White House spokesman deflects questions on IRS, AP phone records

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Facing an uproar over possible abuses of power by the IRS and Department of Justice, President Obama’s chief spokesman hid behind the claim Tuesday that the White House can’t comment on current investigations.

White House press secretary Jay Carney repeatedly deflected reporters questions’ about the two agencies by saying it would be inappropriate to get involved in ongoing probes.

Mr. Carney continued to treat the IRS scandal, in which a top agency official has already apologized for targeting conservative groups for extra scrutiny, as a case in which wrongdoing has yet to be proven. He said Mr. Obama is awaiting an inspector general’s report on the matter.

“Once we have that report, we’ll be able to assess next steps,” Mr. Carney said. “We have to … wait for the action of an independent investigator, if you will, the inspector leader, before we can jump to conclusions about what happened, whether there was a deliberate targeting of groups, inappropriately, and if that’s the case, what action should be taken.”

On Monday, Mr. Obama told reporters that it would be “outrageous” if the IRS did target conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status. But he, too, failed to give credence to an apology issued last week by IRS official Lois Lerner to tea-party groups and others.

Mr. Carney said essentially the White House doesn’t know or trust whatever information on which the IRS based its apology.

“Those from the IRS who have spoken about this obviously have much greater insight into what took place than we do,” Mr. Carney said. “One person’s view of what actions were taken or what that individual did is not enough for us to say something concretely happened that was inappropriate.”

Likewise, the White House said it would be wrong to comment on the Justice Department’s investigation into the Associated Press, in which investigators seized two months’ worth of editors’ and reporters’ phone records. The department reportedly is investigating the leak of classified government information.

“I cannot and [Mr. Obama] cannot comment specifically on an ongoing criminal investigation or actions that investigators at the Department of Justice may or may not have taken,” Mr. Carney said. “It would be wholly inappropriate.”

He said Mr. Obama “is a strong defender of the First Amendment,” but needs to balance that view against “the need to ensure that classified information is not leaked because it can endanger our national security interest.”

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