White House Learned of IRS Tea Party Probe Early—But Didn’t Tell Obama

Flickr/<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/whitehouse/8735986914/sizes/z/in/photostream/">White House</a>


President Obama’s chief of staff and the White House’s top lawyer got wind of an inspector general’s investigation into the IRS’ singling out of tea partiers and conservative groups several weeks before the report went public. But those officials, according to press secretary Jay Carney, did not tell Obama. The president says he learned about the IRS’ screw-up only after an agency director apologized on Friday, May 10, for employees having targeted conservative groups—an apology that went viral.

Carney told reporters Monday it was “appropriate” that Obama wasn’t told of the damning IG report beforehand. And the president, he said, wasn’t angry to not have been given early notice. “He believes it’s entirely appropriate that, you know, some matters are not appropriate to convey to him and this is one of them,” Carney said.

As we’ve reported, a Treasury Department inspector general, at the behest of angry members of Congress, spent nine months probing whether IRS staffers targeted tea party groups and other right-leaning conservative outfits who had applied for tax-exempt status under the 501(c)(4) section of the tax code. Although staffers did in fact zero in on conservative groups, the IG’s report concluded that political bias did not play a role. Instead, staffers used “inappropriate criteria”—catchwords such as “tea party,” “patriot,” or “9/12 Project” (the latter a creation of conservative talk show host Glenn Beck)—to look for groups that might’ve been too involved in politics. (Groups that file their taxes under 501(c)(4) can dabble in politics, but it can’t be their “primary activity.”) IRS employees got away with this due to “insufficient oversight” by the higher-ups in Washington, the report found.

Testifying before Congress last week, Steven Miller, the acting IRS commissioner who will soon resign as a result of the agency’s tea party debacle, echoed the IG’s findings. He said IRS employees made “foolish mistakes” and that the agency’s behavior was “obnoxious.” But those employees did not have a grudge against conservative groups. Their errors, Miller said, “were made by people trying to be more efficient in their workload selection.”

“What did they know” and “when did they know it” are two big questions looming over the IRS scandal. Here’s what we know right now: Almost a month before IG’s report came out last Tuesday, a staffer in the office of White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler learned of the report. Ruemmler herself was briefed on April 24. Soon after, she informed Denis McDonough, Obama’s chief of staff. Carney said the president was not told of the investigation because there was nothing to be done about it. Also the White House did not want to appear to be interfering with an inspector general’s report on such a sensitive issue. There is no evidence yet that Obama or his top aides knew about the investigation before this year.

Here is the IG’s report:

 

More MotherJones reporting on Dark Money

THANK YOU.

We recently wrapped up the crowdfunding campaign for our ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project, and it was a smashing success. About 10,364 readers pitched in with donations averaging $45, and together they contributed about $467,374 toward our $500,000 goal.

That's amazing. We still have donations from letters we sent in the mail coming back to us, so we're on pace to hit—if not exceed—that goal. Thank you so much. We'll keep you posted here as the project ramps up, and you can join the hundreds of readers who have alerted us to corruption to dig into.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

Share your feedback: We’re planning to launch a new version of the comments section. Help us test it.