White House press secretary Jay Carney (Jason Reed/Reuters) White House press secretary Jay Carney (Jason Reed/Reuters)

There seems to be bipartisan consensus that whatever the White House is doing to fend off scandal is making things worse. Howard Fineman sounds a lot like Right Turn these days: “White House aides are tempting fate with their reluctant, piecemeal and contradictory disclosures of what they knew and when they knew it, especially about a report on the Internal Revenue Service’s 18-month effort to target tea party and other conservative groups for special scrutiny.”

The constantly shifting stories from Jay Carney and the IRS dissembling and pleas of ignorance only heighten concern that there has been serious wrongdoing. Former IRS commissioner Douglas Shulman doesn’t know how the targeting started and doesn’t think he owes anyone an apology.

And this sure won’t help:

The top IRS official in the division that reviews nonprofit groups will invoke the Fifth Amendment and refuse to answer questions before a House committee investigating the agency’s improper screening of conservative nonprofit groups.

Lois Lerner, the head of the exempt organizations division of the IRS, won’t answer questions about what she knew about the improper screening – or why she didn’t reveal it to Congress, according to a letter from her defense lawyer, William W. Taylor 3rd.

The sight of an Obama official taking the Fifth is sure to fuel the controversy, increase calls for a special prosecutor and multiply the comparisons to other serious presidential crises.

Democrats should be insisting on a whole new communications effort. Carney, the face of the White House, insists on saying remarkably silly things (the president, he declares, was “appropriately” kept out of the loop on the emerging IRS scandal) or leaving out some fairly damning information. Now we hear that “Mark Childress, the White House deputy chief of staff, twice spoke with officials at the Treasury Department about the strategy for revealing conservative targeting.”

The Post’s Al Kamen postulates that the “don’t tell dad” mentality is keeping Obama from hearing bad news. But a president sets the rules and controls when, how and under what circumstances he’s informed and decisions are brought to his attention. If he is ignorant because of his aides, it is either willful ignorance or gross malfeasance by aides, who should be fired for keeping things from their boss.

The White House and its bureaucracy (IRS, Health and Human Services, the State Department, CIA) are suffering from a crisis of public confidence brought on by their own conduct. Is it simply coincidence that all this misbehavior, dissembling and obstruction is going on or did the various players figure out what their superiors wanted? We’ll find out: If they weren’t doing what they were supposed to in the Obama environment, we should see a clean sweep of officials.

In any event, the president is in deep trouble. Rather than rallying the left and trying to push its talking points on friendly journalists (or inviting them to the White House), the White House should clean house, the president should start apologizing, the snooping on journalists must end and the administration should try to recover some semblance of competence. But, frankly, it may be too late for all that.