‘The Loop’ Never Extends All the Way to the Oval Office

by Jim Geraghty

The “worst tornado in the history of the world” hit the Oklahoma City suburbs yesterday. You know what to do: American Red Cross. Salvation Army. Recovers.org. Mercury One is organizing two truckloads from the Dallas area.

The Tuesday edition of the Morning Jolt begins . . . 

Hey, I’m Just the President, Nobody Ever Tells Me Anything Around Here.

Let me get this straight: To hear Jay Carney tell it, the president is pleased that no one in his senior staff told him that the IRS was targeting his political enemies?

Senior White House officials, including Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, learned last month about a review by the Treasury Department’s inspector general into whether the Internal Revenue Service targeted conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status, but they did not inform President Obama, the White House said Monday.

The acknowledgement is the White House’s latest disclosure in a piecemeal, sometimes confusing release of details concerning the extent to which White House officials knew of the IG’s findings that IRS officials engaged in the “inappropriate” targeting of conservative non-profits for heightened scrutiny. Previously, the White House said counsel Kathryn Ruemmler did not learn about the final results of the investigation until the week of April 22nd, and had not disclosed that McDonough and other aides had also been told about the investigation. On Monday, White House Spokesman Jay Carney said a member of Ruemmler’s staff learned of the probe the week of April 16; Ruemmler learned of the investigation on April 24th; and after that point she informed the chief of staff and other aides about the probe’s findings.

The White House has said President Obama did not learn of the IRS’s actions until he saw news reports on the matter earlier this month.

Carney’s spiel included the explanation, “No one in this building intervened in an ongoing independent investigation or did anything that could be seen as intervening.” But a desire to not interfere with the investigation doesn’t quite explain why no one thought that the president ought to be informed about a major scandal of the IRS targeting his political enemies.

Doesn’t it bother Obama to learn about these things from the press? Doesn’t he chew anybody out?

Gabe Malor: “I want to know the names of the folks who get to decide what Obama doesn’t need to know. What are their credentials? Who elected them?”

We’ve seen the “senior administrative staff never mentions major, controversial problem to man in charge of the organization until it blows up on the front pages” playbook before. This is precisely the explanation that we were handed for “Fast and Furious” and how Eric Holder never learned about what was going on until Customs and Border Protection Agent Brian Terry was murdered with a weapon from that program.

Time and again, information and warnings about the operation’s enormous risks flow from Arizona to Washington . . . and suddenly, mysteriously, stop just short of Holder.

The inspector general’s report concludes that they can find no evidence Holder knew about Fast and Furious until well after Terry’s death, but . . . well, the circumstances of Holder being so out of the loop, so in the dark about a major operation certainly appear unusual, perhaps to the point of straining credulity. The report states:

“We found it troubling that a case of this magnitude and that affected Mexico so significantly was not directly briefed to the Attorney General. We would usually expect such information to come to the Attorney General through the Office of the Deputy Attorney General . . . [Holder] was not told in December 2010 about the connection between the firearms found at the scene of the shooting and Operation Fast and Furious. Both Acting Deputy Attorney General Grindler and Counsel to the Attorney General and Deputy Chief of Staff Wilkinson were aware of this significant and troubling information by December 17, 2010, but did not believe the information was sufficiently important to alert the Attorney General about it or to make any further inquiry regarding this development.”

Not “sufficiently important”? Baffling. Maddening. Some might even say, “implausible” . . . 

The report continues:

“We found it troubling that a case of this magnitude and that affected Mexico so significantly was not directly briefed to the Attorney General. We would usually expect such information to come to the Attorney General through the Office of the Deputy Attorney General . . . [Holder] was not told in December 2010 about the connection between the firearms found at the scene of the shooting and Operation Fast and Furious. Both Acting Deputy Attorney General Grindler and Counsel to the Attorney General and Deputy Chief of Staff Wilkinson were aware of this significant and troubling information by December 17, 2010, but did not believe the information was sufficiently important to alert the Attorney General about it or to make any further inquiry regarding this development.”

Perhaps “Preserve the boss’s plausible deniability” is stitched on the throw pillows on the Oval Office couches.

Obama didn’t know the IRS was targeting conservatives until he read it in the papers. He didn’t know about “Fast and Furious” until he read it in the papers, too. He has “complete confidence” in Holder, and didn’t know about the decision to collect the phone records of reporters.  He didn’t know about the investigation into CIA director David Petraeus’s affair.  He told Letterman during the election he didn’t know what the national debt was. He didn’t know about the AIG bonuses in the TARP legislation. He said he didn’t know how bad the economic crisis was when he took office.

That “empty chair” metaphor from the Republican Convention was so out of line, huh?

I just picture a phone ringing here, going unanswered…

UPDATE: Sunshine State Sarah Rumpf looks at the rules of the District of Columbia Bar and concludes the White House Counsel’s office likely violated ethics by not promptly informing the president of the IRS abuses.