The DC political world has been rocked by twin revelations that the IRS targeted conservative and tea party non-profits for heightened scrutiny and Eric Holder’s Justice Department obtained private phone records of reporters from the Associated Press. At heart of both scandals is the Administration’s attempts to neutralize political opponents and government whistleblowers. The White House defense has been that it wasn’t aware of these activities until reported in the press. In other words, Obama is incompetent, rather than culpable.
During a press conference on Monday, President Obama said he first learned of the IRS targeting of groups with “tea party” or “patriots” in their name from news reports on Friday. The IRS has stated that the acting Commissioner learned of the troubling targeting in March, 2012. White House spokesman Jay Carney said the White House counsel’s office was informed of the targeting on April 22 this year.
It strains credulity to believe that the White House learned of the explosive scandal weeks ago, yet failed to inform President Obama or his top advisors. The IRS admission that it had engaged in inappropriate targeting of organizations based on their political views is a direct assault on citizens’ free speech rights. It is the kind of scandal that ought to quickly move to the highest levels of power as soon as it is revealed.
We also are to believe that the Attorney General could issue broad subpoenas for journalists’ phone records as a kind of independent agent. Jay Carney on Monday said the the White House was unaware of the sweeping review and directed questions to the Justice Department. If Eric Holder were truly empowered to assume these broad powers without White House knowledge, then Obama’s management of the Executive Branch is utterly dysfunctional.
President Obama’s best defense to these emerging scandals, then, is that he is an incompetent manager of his office. Not only can the AG authorize his own fishing expedition of communications between reporters and whistleblowers, but the White House can learn of a politically explosive scandal at the IRS and decide it doesn’t warrant the President’s attention.
That Obama has chosen this defense may be the worst revelation from the scandals.