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 – 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.”
It suggests the “scandal,” such as it is, continues to shrink. This is not to say the controversy is unimportant, but it’s clear the goalposts are nowhere near where they were at the outset.