News Column

Scandals Send White House Reeling

May 15, 2013
White House (file photo)

Top Obama administration officials are insisting they -- and President Obama -- were not involved in the spreading abuse-of-power scandals now rocking the IRS, the Department of Justice and the State Department and threatening even the White House as Congress demands to know how high the blame goes.

"Then this morning, we all learned that the targeting wasn't limited to an IRS office out in Cincinnati -- as the administration suggested last week -- but that it reached all the way to IRS headquarters in Washington," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on the Senate floor. "What we don't know at this point is whether it jumped the fence from the IRS to the White House."

McConnell added in an apparent reference to the alleged Benghazi attacks cover-up: "But we do know this: We can't count on the administration to be forthcoming about the details of this scandal -- because so far they've been anything but. ... No more stonewalling, no more incomplete answers, no more misleading responses, no holding back witnesses, no matter how senior their current or former positions -- we need full transparency and cooperation."

An inspector general's report on the IRS scandal released yesterday found no evidence of White House influence, though it found top IRS officials knew what lower agents were doing. Obama called the IRS targeting of conservative groups "intolerable and inexcusable," but it did little to stem criticism.

"Unfortunately, the report raises more questions than it answers," said House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.). "What we do know for sure is that the IRS ... systematically targeted conservative groups for extra scrutiny, and that officials in Washington, D.C., were aware of this practice, even while publicly claiming that it never happened."

DOJ -- itself under fire over its CIA leak investigation -- will investigate the IRS, Attorney General Eric Holder announced.

"Those (actions) were, I think, as everyone can agree, if not criminal, they were certainly outrageous and unacceptable," Holder said.

Of the seizure of Associated Press phone records in the DOJ investigation of a leak about a CIA operation against al-Qaeda, Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said, "The burden is always on the government when they go after private information, especially information regarding the press or its confidential sources. ... On the face of it, I am concerned that the government may not have met that burden."

Holder said he recused himself from the DOJ leak probe to ensure that the investigation was independent. He insisted the leak "put the American people at risk."

On all three matters, the White House yesterday tried to deflect blame. The disputed Benghazi talking points, advisers said, were chiefly the CIA's work, while the IRS scandal was an internal agency problem. Obama spokesman Jay Carney referred questions about the AP scandal to DOJ. Asked why Obama can't just ask Holder, Carney said, "A great deal prevents the president from doing that. It would be wholly inappropriate for the president to involve himself in a criminal investigation that ... involves leaks of information from the administration."

Herald wire services contributed to this report.

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