The 'smoking gun' fires blanks

The 'smoking gun' fires blanks
The 'smoking gun' fires blanks

Given the excitement on the right this morning, you'd like they'd found a video of President Obama personally shredding Tea Party groups' tax-exempt applications in the Oval Office. What's all the fuss about? The Daily Caller -- which really didn't need another bogus story dragging down its reputation even further -- ran a report this morning, echoing a report from Fox News' Bill O'Reilly last night, that said former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman visited the White House 157 times between 2009 and 2012.

This, O'Reilly said, may very well be the "smoking gun" Republicans have been hoping for.

As part of its commitment to transparency, the administration makes public a list of everyone who visits the White House. But as The Atlantic's Garance Franke-Ruta explained this morning, the right's attempt to use these records to advance the IRS story has failed miserably.

Shulman was cleared primarily to meet with administration staffers involved in implementation of the health-care reform bill. He was cleared 40 times to meet with Obama's director of the Office of Health Reform, and a further 80 times for the biweekly health reform deputies meetings and others set up by aides involved with the health-care law implementation efforts. That's 76 percent of his planned White House visits just there, before you even add in all the meetings with Office of Management and Budget personnel also involved in health reform.Complicating the picture is the fact that just because a meeting was scheduled and Shulman was cleared to attend it does not mean that he actually went. Routine events like the biweekly health-care deputies meeting would have had a standing list of people cleared to attend, people whose White House appointments would have been logged and forwarded to the check-in gate. But there is no time of arrival information in the records to confirm that Shulman actually signed in and went to these standing meetings.

So, Shulman, the Bush-appointed head of the IRS, was cleared to attend 157 gatherings at the White House. How many did he actually attend? Eleven. The former IRS commissioner attended 11 events at the White House over the course of three years. Why is that interesting? It's not.

To borrow a phrase, this isn't a smoking gun; it isn't even a lukewarm slingshot.

I'd really hoped Republican media would know better by now. Not only is it silly to think the White House would conspire with the Bush-appointed head of the IRS to add scrutiny to Tea Partiers seeking tax-exempt status, but as long-time readers may recall, conservative media outlets have been tripped up by the White House visitor logs before, too.

There's no smoking gun; there's no burgeoning presidential scandal; there's no point to the usual suspects waiting for a new Watergate to emerge. The right is just embarrassing itself at this point.