What did the president know, and when did he know it?
According to the White House, not much — and not until he heard about it from the media.
President Barack Obama said Monday that he “first learned” about the Internal Revenue Service’s singling out of conservative organizations “from the same news reports that I think most people learned about this” on Friday.
The president added: “If, in fact, IRS personnel engaged in the kind of practices that had been reported on and were intentionally targeting conservative groups, then that’s outrageous and there’s no place for it.”
The president used that subordinating conjunction three days after the IRS acknowledged, and apologized for, that abuse of its power. So there’s no “if” about this:
On Friday, the IRS conceded its appalling targeting of Tea Party groups — though it initially said the misconduct occurred only in 2012. Subsequent evidence shows that the IRS also acted in this chilling manner in 2011 — and perhaps even 2010.
And though the president said he didn’t know about this blatant violation of the IRS’ proper function until Friday, The Associated Press reported Saturday that IRS Commissioner Steven Miller was informed of the targeting of Tea Party organizations seeking tax-exempt status on May 3, 2012.
At least the president offered this statement of the obvious Monday: “If you’ve got the IRS operating in anything less than a neutral and non-partisan way, then that is outrageous, it is contrary to our traditions.”
Gee, there’s that “if” again.
The president also vowed: “We will make sure that we find out exactly what happened on this.”
The “we” who must “find out exactly what happened” in the IRS case — and in other lingering controversies about alleged administration wrongdoing — should be Congress. Federal lawmakers in both parties have a constitutional duty to exercise oversight on what increasingly appears to be, at best, an incompetent, and at worst, a willfully deceptive executive branch.
In another example of a White House that seems, by its own account, clueless about a series of troubling actions taken by its own administration, presidential spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday:
“As I said yesterday, we have no knowledge other than press reports of any attempt by the Justice Department to seek phone numbers of the Associated Press.”
Attorney General Eric Holder said Tuesday that he recused himself last year from his department’s investigation of leaks of classified information about an al-Qaida terror plot in Yemen. In that probe, Justice secretly seized two months of phone records of AP editors and reporters.
Mr. Holder added, however, that he was confident “appropriate Justice Department regulations” were followed.
Yet AP President/CEO Gary Pruitt rightly decried the seizure as a “massive and unprecedented intrusion” into the wire service’s journalistic mission.
So the White House says it didn’t know, until informed by news reports, that its IRS targeted conservative groups or that its Justice Department seized a vast volume of AP phone records.
So what precisely does this White House know?
Well, President Obama presumed that he knew enough Monday to ridicule, as a “sideshow,” continued congressional efforts to investigate “the whole issue of talking points” on last Sept. 11’s terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Those “talking points” were the State Department’s bogus story blaming the murder of four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, on a “spontaneous protest” prompted by an obscure, anti-Islam video.
That fiction was concocted and perpetuated with Election Day a mere eight weeks away — when admitting that a planned terror attack produced the Benghazi carnage would have undermined the Obama re-election campaign’s pitch that he had significantly diminished the terror menace.
But at this revealing point, it is the Obama administration’s credibility that has been seriously diminished.
And considering the president’s self-declared lack of knowledge on the failures and/or abuses of his own administration, it’s now up to Congress to “find out exactly what happened.”