Al Kamen
Al Kamen
In the Loop

The president, always the last to know

This IRS scandal is, as expected, getting most interesting.

People are asking questions about who knew what when — a variant of Sen. Howard Baker’s famous question at the Watergate hearings 40 years ago: “What did the president know, and when did he know it?”

Al Kamen

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. He began his reporting career at the Rocky Mountain News and joined The Post in 1980. He has covered local and federal courts, the Supreme Court and the State Department. Follow him on Twitter.

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“I first learned about it,” President Obama said of the IRS story on May 13, “from the same news reports that I think most people learned about this. I think it was on Friday.” That would be May 10.

Which means, except for the acting deputy assistant gardener, he was maybe the last person in the White House to hear about it.

In fact, it increasingly appears that just about everyone knew about the Treasury Department inspector general’s report, which was released May 14, on the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of tea party groups for special scrutiny of their applications for tax-exempt status.

But under the administration’s “Don’t tell Dad” policy, no one bothered to tell Obama or give him even a general briefing before he read about the report in the hated media.

The first White House explanation had it that White House counsel Kathy Ruemmler was given a general heads-up in late April. Then we learned her office knew about it a week earlier. Ruemmler also knew the IG’s findings.

She didn’t tell Obama but did tell White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough. Then an unknown — so far — number of senior White House staff were also clued in. And none of them told Obama — even, say, a few hours before the media reports.

Now we find that political appointees at the Treasury Department knew a year ago about the IG’s investigation and that Treasury Secretary Jack Lew’s chief of staff, Mark Patterson, discussed the timing of the report with White House Deputy Chief of Staff Mark Childress.

But, under the “Dad” policy, Lew was kept in the dark.

Even if Lew or Obama knew, they hardly would have said anything anyway about the IG report until it became public — lest there be an accusation of interference.

The IG’s heads-up could have given the White House time to put together a seamless, coherent response. Perhaps a few more months’ notice would have helped?

LOL SCOTUS

In addition to knowing the laws of the land, Antonin Scalia apparently is familiar with the cardinal rule of comedy: Know your audience.

In a footnote in an opinion on a rather obscure case on Monday, the droll Supreme Court justice dropped a dry little aside that cracked up a tiny subsection of Washington — telecom lawyers. Scalia affixed a footnote to a mention of “CTIA — The Wireless Association,” the name of the trade association that represents wireless companies.

“This is not a typographical error,” he clarified in the footnote. “CTIA is presumably an (unpronounceable) acronym, but even the organization’s website does not say what it stands for. That secret, known only to wireless-service-provider insiders, we will not disclose here.”

Scalia apparently was being cheeky about the branding of CTIA, which once was shorthand for the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, but now, following in the footsteps of institutions from the AARP to KFC, goes by its shortened moniker alone (alas, the CTIA didn’t return our calls about Scalia’s take on what’s known in linguistic circles as an “orphan initialism”).

Perhaps Scalia can weigh in next on the transition of the artist formerly known as Snoop Dogg to “Snoop Lion.”

Oh, the places they go!

If the frequency of congressional visits is any indication, Afghanistan is important to lawmakers — but then again, so are more traditional (and scenic) destinations such as France, Spain and Ireland.

According to an impressive database of House members’ travel in 2012 constructed by the folks at the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, war-torn Afghanistan was the most popular destination for lawmakers traveling abroad, getting 37 visits. But Spain got 30 — and perhaps unsurprisingly, members lingered there a bit longer, staying a total of 227 days, far longer than the 161 days they spent in Afghanistan. Well, the paella is far better in sunny Spain.

And France and Ireland, where important facts are always waiting to be found, each saw lawmakers 27 times.

Hats off to the Herald Tribune for the grueling work of sifting through some 2,000 congressional travel records, which aren’t downloadable, to compile the data and assemble it into a nifty interactive map.

The newspaper also did some good analysis, including noting that some of the biggest travelers in the House were among those about to retire. Who says you need a gold watch when a little international trip will do?

Former congressman David Dreier (R-Calif.) was the most traveled, according to the data, spending 58 days abroad in the year before he left Congress. And: “A month after returning from Monaco, Democrat Dennis Cardoza, also of California — who announced in 2011 he was leaving Congress — spent seven days in Ireland, Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal, then abruptly quit the House three days after returning to the U.S.” last year, the paper says.

The report concluded that the total 2012 travel tab was more than $1.5 million, but of course that figure doesn’t include the cost of military jets used for many of the jaunts.

Also of note was where the lawmakers didn’t go — as the paper reported, they didn’t once visit Iraq.

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop
. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

 
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