Earlier in the week, White House spokesman Jay Carney categorically denied that no one at the White House was aware of the IRS targeting operation prior to late April of this year. Minutes later, he walked back his own assertion. Then came yesterday's (brief) presidential press conference, at which a reporter asked the president when the White House became aware of the IRS abuse. Obama's answer was parsed and evasive. He said he personally found out about the IG report last Friday. Both Obama and Carney clearly sought to convey a sense that the White House only became aware of the problem very recently, but neither quite said it. Why such careful rhetorical stepping from the president and his spokesman on this question? Perhaps because they either knew or suspected that other shoes were going to drop. Like this one from the New York Times:
The Treasury Department’s inspector general told senior Treasury officials in June 2012 he was auditing the Internal Revenue Service’s screening of politically active organizations seeking tax exemptions, disclosing for the first time on Friday that Obama administration officials were aware of the matter during the presidential campaign year. At the first Congressional hearing into the I.R.S. scandal, J. Russell George, the Treasury inspector general for tax administration, told members of the House Ways and Means Committee that he informed the Treasury’s general counsel of his audit on June 4, and Deputy Treasury Secretary Neal Wolin “shortly thereafter.” It remained unclear how much the disclosure would affect the broader debate over the I.R.S.'s problems. Complaints from Tea Party groups that the I.R.S. was singling them out became public in 2012, through media accounts.
This sentence from the Times story is precious:
Mr. George told Treasury officials about the allegation as part of a routine briefing about ongoing audits he would be conducting in the coming year, and he did not tell the officials of his conclusions that the targeting had been improper, he said. Still, the inspector general’s testimony will most likely fuel efforts by Congressional Republicans to show that Obama administration officials knew of efforts to single out conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status for additional scrutiny, but did not reveal that knowledge during President Obama’s re-election campaign.
Yes, New York Times, the sworn testimony of the Inspector General and your reporting may "fuel efforts by Congressional Republicans" to, um, point out what happened. For his part, Treasury says Wolin didn't discuss the revelation with anyone outside of his own department. First of all, the IRS is overseen by Treasury, which is run by the executive branch. Targeting conservative was a systemic, well-known practice for years inside the IRS. Even if Wolin is telling the truth, we now know that at least some administration officials at Treasury were made aware of the investigation six months before the election. Are we to believe that Wolin didn't bring this explosive information to his boss, Sec. Tim Geithner? Is there any chance this didn't make its way up the food chain in June of last year, if it hadn't already? NBC News' Lisa Myers raised similar questions about the IRS this morning. She noted that IRS brass failed to disclose this extraordinary information last September in a letter to Congress:
"Imagine, if you can, what would have happened if this fact came out in September 2012 in the middle of the presidential election. The terrain would have looked very different."
We now have confirmation that it wasn't just the IRS that knew about all of this and failed to disclose it in the closing weeks of a bitterly-fought election. (Allahpundit asks some good questions about that here). Treasury was in the loop, too. The "guess who knew?" game keeps creeping closer to the White House door, and the "official" story seems to be changing almost hourly. For instance, we also now know that Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has known about this for months. Acting IRS Commissioner Stephen Miller served up quite a few eye-opening remarks during today's testimony. Among them was the explanation that a huge uptick in applications for tax-free status that coincided with the rise of the Tea Party is what precipitated the "efficiency/triage" targeting program. One small problem: There was no deluge of applicants during that time frame. Oh well, time to dream up another excuse. I'll leave you with this piece from Politico cataloging what we still don't know about the IRS story. So far. Honestly, they barely scratch the surface.