Administration officials were on the defensive Monday about a Washington Post report that the FBI had tracked the phone calls, e-mails and movements of James Rosen, a diplomatic correspondent for Fox News Channel, as part of a leak probe.
In the IRS case, White House officials said Obama would not have acted any differently had he known ahead of time about the inspector general’s findings. Obama has said he learned of them in the media on May 10.
“It’s somewhat ironic that there has been some suggestion that action should have been taken because we were aware that an independent IG was reaching the conclusion of a report,” Carney said. “These kinds of independent investigations need to be independent. There should be no intervention by a White House, and, of course, there was not in this case.”
The IRS began to target conservative groups seeking tax-
exempt status in early 2010, first scrutinizing organizations with “tea party” and other conservative-sounding names. After a long bureaucratic struggle, agency officials finally put the targeting to rest in 2012. The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration soon began an audit of the practices, releasing its results last week.
The revelations have prompted a criminal investigation by the Justice Department, multiple congressional investigations and a succession of hearings, including one scheduled for Tuesday by the Senate Finance Committee. IRS officials have said that they were wrong to use the criteria they did to screen conservatives but that they were not motivated by partisan interests.
Obama fired the acting IRS commissioner last week and named a budget aide, who has served in Republican and Democratic administrations, as his successor.
No evidence has emerged that any White House official knew of the conduct until last month, but Treasury Deputy Secretary Neal Wolin and other political appointees learned about the IG probe last year. Lawmakers were also aware of it: The inspector general on the case, J. Russell George, wrote about it in a July 2012 letter to House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who initially requested the investigation. The IG also gave a brief outline of the inquiry in a recent semiannual report.
The administration’s accounts of what it knew about the IRS inquiry have shifted markedly over the past week. Officials initially maintained that the administration knew an inspector general’s report was forthcoming but suggested that they did not know about its findings.
But on Sunday night, the White House acknowledged that Ruemmler’s office knew details of the report’s conclusions before it was released. Then on Monday, Carney revealed that officials outside the counsel’s office were also in the loop.