“They’re going to be persistently one step behind the story, and always in the position to react, to some extent, to unknowable facts,” said Fratto, now managing partner at Hamilton Place Strategies, a communications and crisis-management firm. “From the White House perspective, having to manage the story and say something every day, it just becomes very challenging for them.”
Typically, an agency’s inspector general informs the White House counsel’s office of the findings of a given inquiry, although this is at the discretion of the agency inspector general, experts said. At the time of a report’s release, the White House counsel generally circulates a summary of its conclusions and talking points to both senior staff and the communications office, said lawyers who have worked in the White House.
Jack Quinn, who served as White House counsel under Bill Clinton, said it made sense that Ruemmler would notify McDonough of the inspector general’s findings before the report was publicly released. But he also said it would have been inappropriate for Ruemmler to inform the president about the conclusions.
Glenn A. Fine, who served as the Justice Department’s inspector general from 2000 to January 2011, said an inspector general may alter the findings of a report at the last minute, especially after receiving feedback from agency officials.
“The IG report is not completed till it’s finished, and it can change any time,” Fine said, adding: “It is critical not to interfere with the investigation as it’s ongoing.”
But Joe Newman, a spokesman for the Project on Government Oversight, said he could think of no legal restriction that would stop the White House counsel from telling the president about an impending audit. “Once the president knows about some wrongdoing, he shouldn’t be prevented from taking remedial action,” Newman said.
Also Monday, the Senate Finance Committee asked the departing acting IRS commissioner, Steven T. Miller, to document any communication with top Obama administration officials about the controversy.
Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) are seeking documentation of all attempts to elicit information from groups seeking tax-exempt status, a list of all the words and phrases used to target applicants for additional scrutiny, how IRS officials discovered that employees were inappropriately targeting certain groups, and all internal communications among employees working to review the groups.
Josh Hicks and Ed O’Keefe contributed to this report.