Top White House staff, including Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, knew that a potentially damaging inspector general’s report on the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of tea party groups was looming but decided not to inform President Barack Obama.
Press Secretary Jay Carney, who was peppered with questions about what and when the White House and the president knew, told reporters Monday that it was “appropriate” that nobody told the president anything because there was nothing to be done until the report came out. Any action would have amounted to interfering in an investigation, Carney said, and he noted that the targeting ended nearly a year earlier.
Carney declined to say whether the president was angry that he learned about the report on the news, but said it was “absurd” for anyone to suggest Obama was kept in the dark to maintain “plausible deniability.”
Carney last week, however, only detailed that White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler had been informed the week of April 22. Today, he said she knew on April 24 that a report about targeting tea party groups was nearing completion.
The counsel’s office had been informed a week earlier but Carney said it wasn’t brought to Ruemmler’s attention until April 24. She discussed it with McDonough and other members of the senior staff and felt it did not rise to the level of telling the president, Carney said.
The president apparently wasn’t peeved to learn about it on the news, Carney added. “He believes it’s entirely appropriate that, you know, some matters do not — are not appropriate to convey to him and this is one of them,” he said.
Carney separately declined to say whether a reporter doing their job could be considered a criminal, after Fox News reporter James Rosen reportedly was named a “co-conspirator” in a Department of Justice leak investigation, had his emails read and whereabouts tracked.
The administration already faces heat over seizing phone records of 20 Associated Press phone lines in a separate leak investigation. The AP has called that an unconstitutionally broad encroachment on the freedom of the press.
Carney merely referred to the president’s statement last week that he wants to balance the freedom of the press with national security. But he offered no new clarity on what that “balance” means beyond the president’s renewed interest in a media shield bill.