An interesting fact emerges from a look at a transcript of last Friday's edition of "The Lead With Jake Tapper" -- Stephanie Cutter was in on the White House meetings that IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman attended.
Cutter insists that Shulman was simply meeting about implementation of ObamaCare -- and in fairness, one of her responsibilities was managing communications strategy for the unpopular law. But as everyone knows, Stephanie Cutter's expertise is not primarily in the policy area; it is in the realm of politics: Political strategy and communications. She has been described by the Daily Beast as a partisan "pit bull." Her job isn't the nuts and bolts of governing. She is a political fixer. That's why she was a Deputy Campaign manager for the President's re-election.
Given that's the case, it's far from clear why she would have been in meetings with Doug Shulman at all. The whole point of the IRS' supposed "independence" is to insulate the agency from the influence and machinations of people exactly like Stephanie Cutter.
So whether or not the stated purpose of the meetings was about ObamaCare -- unless Shulman's politics are very different from the lefty leanings of his wife -- it isn't hard to imagine Shulman and Cutter exchanging some congruent views. That's particularly true given that foremost in political discussion at the time was the Citizens United case (holding it unconstitutional for the government to restrict speech by corporations, associations and unions), which had recently been handed down by the Supreme Court -- and which scared President Obama to death. Is it really a stretch to think that Cutter and Shulman might have commiserated, bemoaned the supposed threat to democracy, and wished that something could be done, oh so subtly? . . . Consider the following timeline:
May 2009 - Cutter moves to White House from Treasury Department
January 2010 - Citizens United is handed down; Democrats are hysterical
March 2010 - IRS begins targeting Tea Party and other conservative groups
April 2010 - Cutter assigned to sell health care reform; if meetings with Shulman didn't occur before, presumably they did so afterwards.
Indeed, this time line and Cutter's presence in the IRS meetings makes it more likely than ever that subtle political influence was wielded. Did anyone explicitly order Shulman to target conservatives? Probably not . . . because given the extent and type of contact he had with White House politicos, no explicit directive was needed.
It seems likely that everyone understood each other just fine, and the IRS operated accordingly.