On May 10, the now-infamous Lerner casually announced in response to an orchestrated question at an American Bar Association speech that the IRS had indeed targeted conservative groups' tax exempt applications.
Then, in spite of the Friday release strategy, all hell broke loose, and the Obama administration was scrambling for cover.
Now that some of the smoke is clearing, we have learned that for two weeks after the Lerner bombshell and more than four weeks after the White House became aware of the targeting, the IRS was still engaged in political targeting.
Somehow, with the White House in a full projectile sweat about the political ramifications of the IRS abuses at least a month earlier, no one at the IRS got the word to cease and desist from the activity?
This leads a reasonable person to conclude that either the orders from the White House demanding that the targeting be discontinued were never issued, or the orders were ignored by those in charge of the IRS operation in spite of the extensive public scrutiny.
Neither conclusion is good.
One indicates that the White House's concern was merely about political backlash and not about the activity itself. This wink-and-nod approach to the IRS abuse scandal gives them ownership of it, something that would not be surprising given the public calls for this exact political targeting in 2010 by Sen. Max BaucusMax BaucusFive reasons why Tillerson is likely to get through Business groups express support for Branstad nomination The mysterious sealed opioid report fuels speculation MORE (Mont.) and other Democrats.
If no one at the White House demanded that the action stop, in spite of admitted knowledge about the scandal by the White House chief of staff, it shows either a stunning complicity or an equally stunning incompetence.
The other possible, but much less likely scenario, paints a picture of an out-of-control bureaucracy immune from a White House demand that it stop illegal activity and unwilling to bend to public outrage over its actions.
While Edward Snowden’s excellent adventures, Hillary’s State Department escort services and Obama’s $60 million to $100 million African vacation (er, state visits) have taken some of the spotlight off of the IRS, the pesky timeline of events make it unlikely to go away completely.
If, as appears to be the case, the White House never told the IRS to stop its policy of political targeting, heads need to roll, starting with Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough, who, if Jay Carney is to be believed, never even bothered to tell the president about it.
Manning (@rmanning957) is the vice president of Public Policy and Communications for Americans for Limited Government
— NOTE: This post was updated by the author on July 2 at the Treasury Department's request to reflect the current timeline that is in the public domain.