WASHINGTON — Top officials in the White House learned in April that an investigation of the IRS would probably end up showing that the agency targeted conservative groups for special scrutiny, the White House spokesman conceded Monday, contrary to earlier Obama administration statements.
But White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said staffers didn’t tell President Obama the bombshell was coming and that the West Wing did nothing to interfere with the audit or the report before its release.
“The cardinal rule,” Carney said, “is that you do not intervene in an independent investigation, and you do not do anything that would give such an appearance. ... And that’s the doctrine we followed.”
Since an Inspector General’s report on the matter was released last week, Republicans have been trying to figure out how long the Obama administration has known about the allegations -- and, in particular, whether the president was aware of the irregularities while running for reelection in 2012.
The leaders of the Senate Finance Committee sent a bipartisan letter to the IRS on Monday calling on the acting commissioner to disclose a raft of information on the matter, including any signs of communications between the IRS and the White House.
“Targeting applicants for tax-exempt status using political labels threatens to undermine the public’s trust in the IRS,” Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) wrote in a letter co-signed by Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), the committee’s ranking Republican. “Lack of candor in advising the Senate of this practice is equally troubling.”
Senators have been hearing complaints from nonprofit civic organizations for two years, Baucus wrote.
White House aides had maintained for days that they knew nothing of the matter until the week of April 22, when the Treasury Department informed White House Counsel Kathy Ruemmler that a report was coming, and that they were not informed of what would be in the report.
Carney said last week that Ruemmler’s office was only told that the IG was finishing a review about matters involving the office in Cincinnati. “That’s all they were informed as a normal sort of heads-up,” he said.
Obama political advisor Dan Pfeiffer echoed the assertion during a CBS interview on Sunday, saying the White House was aware of the report but “not the details of what happened, not the results of the investigation, but that an independent investigation was about to conclude.”
Following a report to the contrary in Monday editions of the Wall Street Journal, Carney acknowledged that Ruemmler knew on April 24 that findings probably included evidence that the IRS had targeted conservative groups.
Ruemmler then informed Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and other members of the senior staff, Carney said. He said there were subsequent communications between Ruemmler’s and McDonough’s offices with their counterparts at Treasury to talk about the timing of the release and potential findings of the report.
It was Ruemmler who made the decision that the president didn’t need to know about the report in advance of its release, Carney said.
Her belief was that “this is not the kind of thing that you notify the president of, an investigation that’s not complete, because it wouldn’t be appropriate to do so,” Carney said.