I’ve been told today by several reporters that President Obama’s White House counsel, Kathryn Ruemmler, knew for several days — perhaps weeks —that some Internal Revenue Service officials were engaging in political targeting of conservative groups, and that she did not tell the president as soon as she knew even partial reports about the story.
With all due respect to someone who has impeccable legal credentials, if she did have such foreknowledge and didn’t inform the president immediately, I respectfully suggest Ms. Ruemmler is in the wrong job and that she should resign.
The White House counsel to the president, one of the two or three most important positions on the White House staff, must be more than a great lawyer, which Ms. Ruemmler reportedly is. The White House counsel must also have a sensitive political and media ear — in other words, must be a first-rate crisis manager who understands the fundamental need to get the president out in front of the facts, and not be reactive or overly legalistic in determining crisis management strategy.
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.
It is also hard to understand why some people in the media who apparently knew about this foreknowledge by the White House counsel and her failure to tell the president missed this story and its significance.
I hope these reports are wrong. But we need to know — and so does the president. If they are true, again with all due respect, I suggest she should immediately resign and be replaced by a counsel who is expert at the trio of disciplines required for that job — law, media and politics.
Davis, a Washington attorney and principal in the firm of Lanny J. Davis & Associates, specializing in legal crisis management and dispute resolution, served as former President Clinton’s special counsel from 1996-98 and as a member of former President Bush’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board from 2006-07. He currently serves as special counsel to Dilworth Paxson, and is the author of Crisis Tales: Five Rules for Coping With Crises in Business, Politics and Life, recently published by Threshold/ Simon & Schuster. He can be followed on Twitter @LannyDavis.