WASHINGTON - "Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive."
This ancient admonition, commonly attributed to William Shakespeare but actually the work of Sir Walter Scott, now applies to how Barack Obama's White House has been in a full coverup mode over the widening IRS scandal.
One week after the bombshell story broke that the tax agency has been targeting conservative groups with extra, delay-lengthening scrutiny over their applications for tax-exempt status during the 2011-2012 election cycle, we find out that the details were known at the highest levels of the White House.
Moreover, we're asked to believe that Obama's chief of staff, Denis McDonough -- who talks to his boss daily to keep him informed about what's going on -- and White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler, both of whom knew about the inspector general's audit in April, never said a word about it to the president.
Former Mississippi governor Haley Barbour, a veteran of many political wars, said that if McDonough didn't tell the president about a scandal that was going to fall on him like a ton of bricks, he had no business being chief of staff.
Barbour thinks the Justice Department has no credibility to get to the bottom of this scandal and that this is a job for an independent special prosecutor. The White House's "story keeps changing," he said. Does it ever.
At the outset, the White House characterized the abuse-riddden, political scandal as merely a bureaucratic snafu in what was described as an overworked, budget-stretched IRS office in Cincinnati, Ohio, and nothing more than that.
Then it was revealed that the IRS's egregious demands for Constitutionally-protected information -- names of the groups' donors and even speeches group leaders made -- came from IRS offices from California to Washington, D.C.
President Obama's spokesman Jay Carney maintained last week that no one in the White House knew about the abuses. Then on Monday he revealed to a stunned White House press corps that officials in the West Wing not only knew about the investigation but in some cases knew what the inspector general's report found.
So in the space of one week, the White House's truth-challenged story went from a field office in Cincinnati to a nationwide IRS inquisition of conservative tea party groups to the door step of the president's office.
Not only did Ruemmler tell White House chief of staff McDonough and other White House officials about the IRS findings a month ago, she maintained that the scandal's details shouldn't be reported to Obama.