LAMBRO: From bureaucratic snafu to explosive cover-up
“Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.”
This ancient admonition, commonly attributed to William Shakespeare but actually the work of Sir Walter Scott, now applies to how Barack Obama’s White House has been in a full cover-up mode over the widening Internal Revenue Service scandal.
One week after the bombshell story broke that the tax agency has been targeting conservative groups with extra, delay-lengthening scrutiny over their applications for tax-exempt status during the 2011-12 election cycle, we find out that the details were known at the highest levels of the White House.
Moreover, we’re asked to believe that President Obama’s chief of staff, Denis McDonough — who talks to his boss daily to keep him informed about what’s going on — and White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler, both of whom knew about the inspector general’s audit in April, never said a word about it to the president.
Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a Republican veteran of many political wars, said that if Mr. McDonough didn’t tell the president about a scandal that was going to fall on him like a ton of bricks, he had no business being chief of staff.
Mr. Barbour thinks the Justice Department has no credibility to get to the bottom of this scandal and that this is a job for an independent special prosecutor. The White House’s “story keeps changing,” he said. Does it ever.
At the outset, the White House characterized the abuse-riddden, political scandal as merely a bureaucratic snafu in what was described as an overworked, budget-stretched IRS office in Cincinnati, and nothing more than that.
Then it was revealed that the IRS‘ egregious demands for constitutionally protected information — names of the groups’ donors and even speeches group leaders made — came from IRS offices from California to Washington, D.C.
Mr. Obama’s spokesman, Jay Carney, maintained last week that no one in the White House knew about the abuses. Then, on Monday, he revealed to a stunned White House press corps that officials in the West Wing not only knew about the investigation, but in some cases knew what the inspector general’s report found.
In the space of one week, the White House’s truth-challenged story went from a field office in Cincinnati to a nationwide IRS inquisition of conservative Tea Party groups to the doorstep of the president’s office.
The flimsy, hard-to-believe reasons Ms. Ruemmler gave for supposedly hiding the length and breadth of this unfolding scandal from the president are hard to swallow. It was because the inspector general’s report was not finalized at that point, she argued, and he could not be seen interfering with the investigation until it had been completed.
Obviously, this gave Mr. Obama presidential deniability to hide behind. Last week, he said he first heard about the IRS scandal when the story broke in the news media. The critically important question that a bunch of House and Senate investigating committees are preparing to ask is this: What did the president know, and when did he know it?
There are lots of reasons to be suspicious of the White House’s explanations thus far and even to conclude that a cover-up was underway. The day before Mr. Carney revealed for the first time that senior White House officials knew all about this, senior presidential adviser Dan Pfeiffer said in a number of Sunday TV interviews that the White House didn’t know about the inspector general’s report until it was released last week.
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