The White House admitted Monday that more officials — including top aides — knew about IRS abuses in targeting conservative groups than the administration had previously acknowledged.
White House aides first learned of a draft report detailing the IRS abuses in late April, but chose to insulate President Obama by not informing him until it exploded in the press, the president’s spokesman said Monday.
Both the president and White House press secretary Jay Carney had said they first learned of the IRS scandal from news reports on May 10.
But Mr. Carney told reporters Monday that White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler learned about the IRS inspector general’s draft report on April 24. She advised senior White House staff, including chief of staff Denis McDonough. According to Mr. Carney, she said she believed that Mr. Obama shouldn’t be told — and staffers followed that advice.
“To be clear, we knew the subject of the investigation and we knew of the nature of some of the potential findings, but we did not have a copy of the draft report,” he said. “We did not know the details, the scope or the motivation surrounding the misconduct, and we did not know who was responsible.”
In a contentious news conference Monday afternoon, Mr. Carney tried to characterize White House aides’ failure to inform the president of a major upcoming controversy as routine and appropriate, arguing that the White House is usually informed about inspectors-general drafts shortly before they become final and are published, and cautioned that details of the reports and their findings can often change.
With that in mind, he said White House senior aides thought it was better for Mr. Obama not to be notified because there was no action for him to take and they didn’t want to be accused of trying to meddle in the investigation’s outcome.
“This is not the kind of thing, when you have an ongoing investigation or an ongoing audit, that requires notification to the president because what is important is we wait until that kind of process is completed before we take action,” he said.
But reporters refused to accept the portrayal and grilled Mr. Carney about who made the decision to keep Mr. Obama in the dark and why.
Mr. Carney admitted that he didn’t give reporters the whole picture last week when he said only Ms. Ruemmler was informed of the IRS inspector general’s investigation the week of April 22. He said he has since received new information, presumably from senior White House staff involved, in an attempt to more fully answer questions.
Mr. Carney’s admission comes as Republicans and some Democrats on Capitol Hill are calling for more information about who knew about the IRS activity and when they knew it. Critics have said the White House response that they first learned of the IRS targeting in press accounts is implausible and have pressed for more information about who was briefed about it and why Mr. Obama was left out of the information trail.
Mr. Obama has said he will not tolerate the political targeting by the IRS and forced the resignation of acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller.