The common theme connecting each scandal involving the US government has been that the White House was, allegedly, uninvolved and unaware – despite piles of evidence to the contrary. The latest news, concerning the IRS scandal, however, is that the trail leads directly to the White House.
Following the admission by Internal Revenue Service officials that Conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status were singled out for additional scrutiny and questioning – often resulting in their applications being delayed for months and, in some cases, still remaining unresolved – California Republican Darrell Issa oversaw congressional hearings into the matter. Whilst one of the top IRS officials most directly involved, Lois Lerner, has invoked her fifth amendment rights and refused to testify, a number of the agency’s personnel have revealed details of the targeting strategy.
It has now been revealed that White House personnel were aware of the controversial IRS tactics. According to a report in the Daily Caller, Douglas Shulman, who was the IRS Commissioner at the time, along with his chief of staff Jonathan Davis and spokesman Frank Keith, met with Jeffrey Zients on April 24, 2012, at an executive office building which is part of the White House Complex. Zients was Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), at that time. According to the White House visitor logs, the meeting lasted almost eight and a half hours. This meeting took place one day after William Wilkins, head of the IRS’s chief counsel’s office, met with President Obama at the White House.
On April 25, Wilkins’ office issued “additional comments on the draft guidance” for approving or denying TEA Party tax-exemption application to IRS officials in Washington.
Zients departed the OMB in April 2012, barely a year after taking over the agency. There was, at the time, no official White House announcement of his stepping down, but, just two weeks later, the targeting scandal broke when Lois Lerner admitted that TEA Party and other groups – such as 9/12 and other ‘patriot’ organizations – had been unfairly targeted.
With Shulman, Zients and Lerner, who headed the IRS department tasked with overseeing tax-exempt organizations, all gone from their former positions, the suggestion of a systematic cover-up seems increasingly hard to discount. There is no doubt that the Obama administration has, indeed, maintained a very close relationship with the IRS: During his tenure as Commissioner, Shulman had visited the White House 157 times – averaging out to once a week. The news that the trail now leads to the White House has drawn – as yet – no response from the administration.
Graham J Noble