Beltway Scandal Mongering 101

Posted by AzBlueMeanie:

Scandal Mongering 101

1. Facts don't matter — just make up the facts (state your case as a "what if" proposition if necessary, or go to the FAUX News classic, "some people say . . .").

2. Logical consistency does not matter — two diametrically opposed theories can be "true" at the same time. If one theory is not working for you, switch to the diametrically opposed theory.

3. When all else fails, throw shit against the wall and hope that something sticks.

Keep this in mind when reading Steve Benen's breakdown of the IRS "scandal" today. 'The opposite of a cover-up':

When it comes to the IRS controversy, I'm starting to get the impression that the goalposts have moved rather quickly.

The
initial allegation raised by the right and other administration critics
is that President Obama's White House, if not the president himself,
may have been directly involved. As this story goes, Team Obama sent
word to an IRS office in Cincinnati to apply extra scrutiny to
conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status.

When every shred of
evidence suggested this allegation is baseless, the charges shifted
from "Obama did too much!" to "Obama did too little!"

For example, ABC's Jonathan Karl, who's had a rough go of it lately, said yesterday
of the IRS's missteps: "How was this allowed to go on? … There were
public reports that this stuff was going on almost a year before the
presidential election…. Is there any responsibility from the
administration of saying, 'Hey, IRS, we don't treat groups differently
based on politics [instead of waiting] for the report after the election
to make a comment?'"

In other words, we've reached the point in
the controversy at which critics are raising the opposite of their
original charges. "Why did the White House intervene?" has become "Why
didn't the White House intervene?"

Jeffrey Toobin's take yesterday rings true.

When you can't prove that the White House did anything wrong, and you
can't prove that the White House knew that someone else was doing
something wrong, what do you try to prove? That the White House knew
there was an investigation into whether someone else was doing something
wrong! That may sound scandalous, but, in fact, it's perfectly
appropriate. […]

White House officials seem to have engaged in the opposite of a
cover-up. They let the investigation proceed, and let the Inspector
General do his job. They let the process play out. They played by the
rules, which is what lawyers are supposed to do
.

I'd note that congressional Republicans learned about the IG's inquiry last summer
[The Treasury inspector general for tax administration sent a letter
to Rep. Darrell Issa in July 2012 saying it would audit the agency] — to use Karl's words, they knew "this stuff was going on almost a
year before the presidential election" — and they too let the process
play out, as they should have.

Dave Weigel added,
"What started as a question of whether the White House ordered 'Tea
Party targeting' has become a Byzantine investigation of on what day
which staffers were informed that the inspector general was digging into
this."

Ryan Grim reported at the Huffington Post last week, Darrell Issa: 'You Don't Accuse The IRS Until You've Had A Nonpartisan, Deep Look':

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said earlier this week in a
little-noticed interview that he knew "approximately" what the IRS
inspector general would report about selective targeting of conservative
groups, but that it wasn't appropriate to "accuse the IRS until you've
had a nonpartisan, deep look."

The comments back up the White House argument that administration
officials did not know enough about the investigation to condemn the IRS
until the IG completed his work recently.
A Treasury Department
official, Neal Wolin, was informed that the IG was looking into the
situation this past summer, a revelation the media and GOP have seized
on to suggest the White House may have covered up the scandal in the
midst of a campaign.

Issa is chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

"I know approximately what's in it," Issa told Bloomberg Businessweek
on Monday when asked if he knew what would be in the report. "I knew
what was approximately in it when we made the allegations about a year
ago. This is one of those things where it's been, in a sense, an open
secret, but you don't accuse the IRS until you've had a nonpartisan,
deep look. That's what the IG has done
. That's why the IGs in fact exist
within government, is to find this kind of waste and fraud and abuse of
power."

Jeffrey Toobin's post at The New Yorker When You Shouldn’t Tell the President adds:

At Monday’s press briefing, Jay Carney, the White House press
secretary, said Kathryn Ruemmler, the President’s counsel, was told of
the investigation on April 24th. She shared that information with Denis
McDonough, the chief of staff, and a handful of other officials. None of them told the President.

Is there anything wrong with what Ruemmler and the other officials
did? I asked Glenn Fine, who served as the Inspector General of the
Department of Justice from 2000 to 2011. 

* * *

Fine pointed out that the existence of inspector-general
investigations is “not secret”: “The people you are auditing know they
are being audited. And the list of pending audits is generally public as
well.
” Indeed, Darrell Issa, the Republican congressman leading the
inquiries of the White House, knew that the audit was in process.
In any event, the report wasn’t even final until May 12th, by which
time its existence was already widely publicized. “A draft report is
never final until it’s final. Sometimes drafts are changed,” Fine said.
The affected Department leadership is always allowed a chance to comment
on or protest draft reports.

But shouldn’t Ruemmler et al. have told the President about the
audit? Actually, that would have been just about the worst thing they
could have done. “The thing you most want to avoid is that the White
House, or anyone else, tells the I.G. what to do or contacts individuals
who are being questioned in the audit and tries to influence their
responses as well,” Fine said. By not telling the President, Ruemmler
made sure that Obama could not be accused of influencing the audit
.

In other words, White House officials seem to have engaged in the
opposite of a coverup. They let the investigation proceed, and let the
Inspector General do his job. They let the process play out. They played
by the rules, which is what lawyers are supposed to do
.

So attempts by the Beltway media villagers in thrall of "scandal mania" to conflate the date on which the IG report became known to the White House into some Nixonesque "What did you know and when did you know it?" analogy is without merit, and has no basis in reality.

Nixon expressly directed the IRS to use audits to attack his political enemies. There is no evidence that this occurred in this case. There are no "audits" to speak of. As Ed Kilgore explained at the Political Animal blog, 

Bordering On a Big Lie:

I hate to keep confusing the “narrative” with facts, but when it comes to the 501(c)(4s), we aren’t talking about tax audits.
These were reviews of applications that nobody was required to submit,
and that nobody needed to submit unless they were pretty sure they were
on the borders of political activities incompatible with tax-exempt
status (otherwise, they could just file their tax returns like anyone
else and claim tax-exempt status).

Of the 298 groups subjected to additional review, 72 were “tea party”
groups, 11 were “9/12″ groups and 13 were “patriots” groups
, according
to the inspector general’s report. The only groups actually denied special tax status were progressive groups, not conservative groups. The New York Times reported, 3 Groups Denied Break by I.R.S. Are Named: "The I.R.S. denied tax exemption to the
groups — Emerge Nevada, Emerge Maine and Emerge Massachusetts —
because, the agency wrote in denial letters, they were set up
specifically to cultivate Democratic candidates."

As Glenn Fine pointed out, the existence of an Inspector General audit is a public record,  so there is no "cover up." This investigation was identifed in the Annual Audit Plan – Fiscal Year 2013 (pdf) for the Treasury inspector General for Tax Administration.

See Page 18:

Screenshot from 2013-05-22 11:25:47
And Page 22:

Screenshot from 2013-05-22 11:27:34

As Rep. Darrell Issa said, it was an "open secret." The fact that the media only recently discovered the IG audit speaks more to the incompetence of the media than it does to any "cover up."

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