White House officials were notified of a Treasury Department inspector general report on the IRS but elected not to tell President Obama about it.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said Monday that Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough and other senior officials knew of the general nature of the report but decided to keep the president in the dark about the report’s finding that the IRS had targeted conservative groups for extra tax scrutiny.
Carney defended the decision, saying conclusions often change in the final stages of inspector general reports, and that it would’ve been inappropriate for the White House to involve itself in an ongoing investigation.
“To be clear, we knew the subject of the investigation and the nature of some of the potential findings,” Carney said. “But we did not have a copy of the draft report, we did not know the details, the scope, or the motivation surrounding the misconduct. And we did not know who was responsible. Most importantly, the report was not final and still very much subject to change.”
Carney said that upon learning about the report, McDonough “rightly chose not to take action” to avoid being seen as intervening.
“That’s what any White House should do,” Carney said at the daily White House briefing.
“The cardinal rule here is you do not intervene in an independent investigation … particularly when the final conclusions have not been released,” he said.
But Lanny Davis, a former special counsel under President Bill ClintonBill ClintonSyrian safe zones: Trump's best bet for refugee relief, regional stability Chelsea Clinton attends Muslim solidarity rally in NYC Former Defense chief: Trump's handling of national security 'dysfunctional' MORE, wrote last week that Ruemmler should resign if she knew about the probe of the IRS and failed to tell the president.
Davis, writing for The Hill, argued that a White House counsel must have a keen ear for politics, and that it would have been better to tell Obama immediately of the facts of the case.
"If Ms. Ruemmler did know about this IRS story and didn’t inform the president immediately, then, respectfully, that must mean she didn’t appreciate fully the mammoth legal and political implications for the U.S. government as well as the American people of a story involving IRS officials abusing power and possibly violating criminal laws," Davis wrote.
Carney said Ruemmler and McDonough had only “top line” knowledge of the report’s findings. He argued that some in Congress, including House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrel Issa (R-Calif.), had been similarly briefed on the upcoming report, but chose to sit on the information so as not to interfere.
“Our whole point has been that knowing this was coming does not change the fact that there was nothing we could have or should have done about it,” Carney said, adding that it was wrong to say “that somehow the president should have been notified.”
President Obama has said he first learned about the IRS misconduct when the public did, on May 10.
Carney said the president wasn’t upset that he had to learn about the report through the media, rather than from his advisers.
“The president believes and has faith that it is entirely appropriate that nobody here took any action to intervene,” Carney said. “Some matters are not appropriate to convey to him, and this is one of them.”
Carney said it was “absurd” to suggest that senior White House officials kept the matter from Obama to shield him from the political backlash. He argued that because the targeting was looking at “past conduct,” rather than ongoing offense, that it diminished what the president could have done about it.
The inspector general’s office said it notified Treasury Secretary Jack LewJack LewOne year later, the Iran nuclear deal is a success by any measure Chinese President Xi says a trade war hurts the US and China Overnight Finance: Price puts stock trading law in spotlight | Lingering questions on Trump biz plan | Sanders, Education pick tangle over college costs MORE about the audit in March, but that he did not learn about the report findings until they went public. The disclosure of the IRS political targeting has brought criticism from both parties, with Congress beginning hearings. President Obama called the conduct “outrageous” last week and sought and received the resignation of Steven Miller, the acting director of the IRS.
The Wall Street Journal reported late Sunday that Ruemmler learned about the inspector general’s conclusions during the week of April 22.
“My understanding is that the White House Counsel’s Office was alerted in the week of April 22nd of this year, only about the fact that the IG was finishing a review about matters involving the office in Cincinnati,” Carney said. “But that’s all they were informed as a normal sort of heads up. And we have never - we don’t have access to, nor should we, the IG’s report or any draft versions of it.”
This story was updated at 3:24 p.m.