President met with anti-Tea Party IRS union chief the day before agency targeted Tea Party.
“For me, it’s about collaboration.” – National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen Kelley on the relationship between the anti-Tea Party IRS union and the Obama White House
Is President Obama directly implicated in the IRS scandal?
Is the White House Visitors Log the trail to the smoking gun?
The stunning questions are raised by the following set of new facts.
March 31, 2010.
According to the White House Visitors Log, provided here in searchable form by U.S. News and World Report, the president of the anti-Tea Party National Treasury Employees Union, Colleen Kelley, visited the White House at 12:30pm that Wednesday noon time of March 31st.
The White House lists the IRS union leader’s visit this way:
Kelley, Colleen Potus 03/31/2010 12:30
In White House language, “POTUS” stands for “President of the United States.”
The very next day after her White House meeting with the President, according to the Treasury Department’s Inspector General’s Report, IRS employees – the same employees who belong to the NTEU – set to work in earnest targeting the Tea Party and conservative groups around America. The IG report wrote it up this way:
April 1-2, 2010: The new Acting Manager, Technical Unit, suggested the need for a Sensitive Case Report on the Tea Party cases. The Determinations Unit Program Manager Agreed.
In short: the very day after the president of the quite publicly anti-Tea Party labor union – the union for IRS employees – met with President Obama, the manager of the IRS “Determinations Unit Program agreed” to open a “Sensitive Case report on the Tea party cases.” As stated by the IG report.
The NTEU is the 150,000 member union that represents IRS employees along with 30 other separate government agencies. Kelley herself is a 14-year IRS veteran agent. The union’s PAC endorsed President Obama in both 2008 and 2012, and gave hundreds of thousands of dollars in the 2010 and 2012 election cycles to anti-Tea Party candidates.
Putting IRS employees in the position of actively financing anti-Tea Party candidates themselves, while in their official positions in the IRS blocking, auditing, or intimidating Tea Party and conservative groups around the country.
The IG report contained a timeline prepared by examining internal IRS e-mails. The IG report did not examine White House Visitor Logs, e-mails, or phone records relating to the relationship between the IRS union, the IRS, and the White House.
In fact, this record in the White House Visitors Log of a 12:30 Wednesday, March 31, 2010 meeting between President Obama and the IRS union’s Kelley was not unusual.
On yet another occasion, Kelley’s presence at the White House was followed shortly afterwards by the President issuing Executive Order 13522. A presidential directive that gave the anti-Tea Party NTEU – the IRS union – a greater role in the day-to-day operation of the IRS than it had already – which was considerable.
Kelley is recorded as visiting the White House over a year earlier, listed in this fashion:
Kelley, Colleen Potus/Flotus 12/03/2009 18:30
The inclusion of “FLOTUS” – First Lady Michelle Obama – and the 6:30 pm time of the December event on this entry in the Visitors Log indicates this was the White House Christmas Party held that evening and written up here in the Chicago Sun-Times. The Sun-Times focused on party guests from the President’s home state of Illinois and did not mention Kelley. Notably, the Illinois guests, who are reported to have attended the same party as Kelley, included what the paper described as four labor “activists”: Dennis Gannon of the Chicago Federation of Labor, Tom Balanoff of the Service Employees International Union, Henry Tamarin of UNITE, and Ron Powell of the United Food and Commercial Workers.
Six days following Kelley’s attendance at the White House Christmas party with labor activists like herself, the President issued Executive Order 13522 (text found here, with an explanation here). The Executive Order, titled: “Creating Labor-Management Forums To Improve Delivery of Government Services” applied across the federal government and included the IRS. The directive was designed to:
Allow employees and unions to have pre-decisional involvement in all workplace matters…
However else this December 2009 Executive Order can be described, the directive was a serious grant of authority within the IRS to the powerful anti-Tea Party union. A union that by this time already had the clout to determine the rules for IRS employees, right down to who would be allowed a Blackberry or what size office the employee was entitled to. The same union that would shortly be doling out serious 2010 (and later 2012) campaign contributions to anti-Tea Party candidates with money supplied from IRS employees. The union, as noted last week here in this space, already has the authority to decide all manner of IRS matters, right down to who does and does not get a Blackberry.
It is the same union whose IRS employee-members were being urged in 2012 by Senate Democrats (Chuck Schumer, Al Franken, Max Baucus, and others) to target Tea Party and other conservative groups.
Which, as the IG records, they did.
Both Mr. Obama and the NTEU’s Kelley have been by turns evasive and tight-lipped about their roles in the blossoming IRS scandal.
Kelley refused to open up to the Washington Post. In an article titled ”IRS, union mum on employees held accountable in ‘sin’ of political targeting,” the Post quoted the following:
“NTEU is working to get the facts but does not have any specifics at this time. Moreover, IRS employees are not permitted to discuss taxpayer cases. We cannot comment further at this time,” NTEU President Colleen M. Kelley said via e-mail.
A call to the NTEU office in Cincinnati resulted in a similar response: “We’ve been directed by national office. We have no comment.”
The President approached things in a more evasive manner.
Last Thursday at the President’s press conference with the Turkish prime minister, Julianna Goldman of Bloomberg News asked the following question:
“Mr. President, I want to ask you about the IRS. Can you assure the American people that nobody in the White House knew about the agency’s actions before your Counsel’s Office found out on April 22nd? And when they did find out, do you think that you should have learned about it before you learned about it from news reports as you said last Friday? And also, are you opposed to there being a special counsel appointed to lead the Justice Department investigation?”
The President’s response?
“But let me make sure that I answer your specific question. I can assure you that I certainly did not know anything about the IG report before the IG report had been leaked through the press.”
Take note: Goldman’s question was:
“Can you assure the American people that nobody in the White House knew about the agency’s actions before your Counsel’s Office found out on April 22nd?”
The President evaded by answering:
“I can assure you that I certainly did not know anything about the IG report…”
The question was not whether he knew about the IG report ahead of time. The question was whether he could “assure the American people that nobody in the White House knew about the agency’s actions.”
In response, the President ducked.
In other words, the IRS union chief went to the White House to meet personally with the president on March 31. The union already had Executive Order 13522 behind it, issued by the President barely three months earlier. An Executive Order directing that the IRS must “allow employees and unions to have pre-decisional involvement in all workplace matters…”.
The very next day after that March 31 meeting at the White House, the IRS, with the union involved in its decision-making, was setting up its “Sensitive Case Report on the Tea Party.”
Which raises the famous question from Watergate: What did the President know and when did he know it?
While potentially explosive now, in fact the Obama Administration hadn’t been in office a month before Kelley was boasting of the IRS union’s influence in the White House.
In a February 15, 2009 interview given to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh is Kelley’s home town), there was this question from the PG reporter, with the now Washington-based Kelley boasting as below:
Q: Has the Obama staff been receptive?
A: Yes. We have worked with the transition team, given them suggestions; and throughout the campaign, President Obama talked about working with the federal employees and unions. He’s recognized the contributions federal employees make. I was just at the White House (Jan. 30) while he was signing some executive orders to undo some things the prior administration did.
“I was just at the White House…”
Which is to say, the election of 2008, in which the union had endorsed Obama, was no sooner over than the head of the IRS union had “worked with the transition team” and “given them suggestions.” Literally ten days after the Obama January 20 inaugural in 2009 – January 30 the article notes – Kelley was boasting that “I was just at the White House while he (the President) was signing some executive orders to undo some things the prior administration did.”
And what did Kelley see as the IRS union’s relationship with the White House she had already visited ten days into the President’s first term?
Kelley responded candidly:
“We are looking for a return to what we used to call partnership. I don’t really care what it’s called. For me, it’s about collaboration.”
Catch those words?
In addition to Kelley’s three visits to see the President – in January of 2009, December of 2009, and March of 2010 – she is listed for three other visits, the contact names those of presidential aides:
“Kelley, Colleen Weiss, Margaret 11/04/2009 10:00”
“Kelley, Colleen Weiss, Margaret 12/01/2009 12:00”
“Kelley, Colleen Nelson, Greg 01/14/2010 13:40”
The obvious question instantly arises with the revelation that Kelley was meeting with the President personally – the day before the IRS kicked into high gear with its “Sensitive Case Report on the Tea Party”.
Were the President of the United States and the President of the NTEU meeting in the White House at 12:30 on Wednesday, March 31, 2010 – and engaged in “collaboration” and “partnership”? A “collaboration” and “partnership” that was all about targeting the Tea Party?
And did that collaboration and partnership result in the IRS letting loose the hounds on the Tea Party and conservative groups – the very next day after the Obama-Kelley meeting?
To add to the administration’s IRS-NTEU woes is the fact that beyond the Inspector General, there is another IRS-connected agency in the Treasury Department: the IRS Oversight Board.
And on that board sits a presidential appointee named Robert M. Tobias. Tobias, oddly, was a Clinton appointee in 2005, confirmed by the Senate for a five-year term. He is still there. He is the longtime NTEU general counsel and Kelley’s predecessor as the union president. Here’s the statement, from the IRS Oversight Board, on all of this. It is headed:
IRS Oversight Board Deeply Troubled by Breakdown in IRS Process in Reviewing Tax-Exempt Applications.
There was no reference to the influence of the anti-Tea Party NTEU in the statement. Why would there be when the union’s ex-president sits on the Oversight Board itself?
Obama’s problem here is considerable.
By not forthrightly answering Goldman’s question, he seems to be evading the issue in the manner that brought so much trouble in the form of congressional investigations, special prosecutors, and impeachment threats to Presidents Nixon and Clinton, with Nixon being forced to resign the presidency and Clinton brought to a Senate trial.
The President’s too-clever-by half evasion added to Kelley’s silence leaves open the question of whether the union and the White House, not to mention the IRS Oversight Board, are collaborating – collaborating right now – on a cover-up.
Nixon looked the American people in the television eye and flatly lied about his personal involvement in the Watergate scandal, lies that came from a frantic attempt to conduct a cover-up.
Clinton looked the American people in the eye and famously wagged his finger as he lied that he “did not have sex with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky.” In Clinton’s case this extended to lying to a federal grand jury.
For a good long while, the American people in fact believed both Nixon and Clinton. The stories are now legion of Nixon cabinet and staff believing their man, and Clinton’s cabinet and staff believing their man’s protestations of innocence as well.
Finally, in both cases, the truth was out.
As Washington and the country have long since twice-learned the hard way, the parsing of presidential words in cases like this, not to mention looking into the cameras and boldly lying on the prayer of getting away with the lie, always bodes ill for presidents. It leads inevitably to that simple question famously uttered by then-Tennessee GOP Senator Howard Baker and posed of Nixon at the Senate Watergate hearings: “What did the President know and when did he know it?”
Twice in recent American history the answer to this question, once for Nixon and once for Clinton, has landed popular, powerful presidents in impeachment hot water. Ending Republican Nixon’s presidency altogether and coming close to doing the same with Democrat Clinton. Leaving the legacy of each permanently scarred.
The notion that the players in the IRS scandal did what they did to get past the 2012 election will only add to an Obama presidential reputation as borrowing the Nixon playbook on skirting scandal in a presidential election year.
Ironically re-casting the image of America’s first black president as the black Nixon.
With the examples of how Nixon and Clinton dodged, evaded, and lied, Obama’s non-answer to Juliana Goldman’s question at last week’s press conference comes in for much more scrutiny. Matched to the silence of Kelley it begins raising obvious questions. Such as:
• Did the President himself ever discuss the Tea Party with Kelley?
• Did the President ever communicate his thoughts on the Tea Party to Kelley — in any fashion other than a face-to-face conversation such as e-mail, text, or by phone?
• What was the subject of the Obama-Kelley March 31, 2010 meeting?
• Who was present at the Obama-Kelley March 31 meeting?
• Was the Tea Party or any other group opposing the President’s agenda discussed at the March 31 meeting, or before or after that meeting?
• Is the White House going to release any e-mails, text, or phone records that detail Kelley’s contacts with not only Mr. Obama but his staff?
• Will the IRS release all e-mail, text, or phone records between Kelley or any other leader of the NTEU with IRS employees?
• What role did Executive Order 13522 play in the IRS investigations of the Tea Party and all these other conservative groups?
Doubtless there are others, considerable others and the list of questions will grow.
Not to be lost sight of here is the role of the NTEU in raising money for Democrats in the 2010 and 2012 election cycles – the exact period when the IRS was busy going after the Tea Party and the others to curb any possible influence the groups could have in the elections of 2010 and 2012.
The NTEU, through its political action committee, raised $613,633 in the 2010 cycle, giving 98% of its contributions to anti-Tea Party Democrats. In 2012 the figure was $729,708, with 94% going to anti-Tea Party candidates. One NTEU candidate after another, as discussed last week in this space, campaigned vigorously against the Tea Party.
So the motivations here – defeating the Tea Party in 2010, and failing at that, making sure that the news of the metastasizing cancer in the IRS was kept quiet until after the 2012 presidential election was over – are clear.
What is particularly interesting here are the automatic assumptions of the mainstream media in all of this.
Like this “given” from the Washington Post’s Dan Balz, bold print added for emphasis.
The most corrosive of the controversies is what happened at the IRS, which singled out tea party and other conservative groups for special scrutiny in their applications for tax-exempt status. That Obama knew nothing about it does little to quell concerns that one of the most-feared units in government was operating out of control.
But if in fact the President did know about it?
Here’s the Washington Post’s “Journolist” Ezra Klein:
The crucial ingredient for a scandal is the prospect of high-level White House involvement and wide political repercussions…
If new information emerges showing a connection between the Determination Unit’s decisions and the Obama campaign, or the Obama administration, it would crack this White House wide open. That would be a genuine scandal. But the IG report says that there’s no evidence of that. And so it’s hard to see where this one goes from here.
Which is why it will be a curious sight indeed to see the efforts the media will go to ignore/dismiss the tight, on-the-record connection between the President personally and a vociferously anti-Tea Party union. A union that has the literal run of the IRS – and whose union chief is recorded as having met with the President in the White House the day before the IRS launched “a Sensitive Case Report on the Tea Party cases.” A decision with which, according to the IG report: “The Determinations Unit Program Manager Agreed.” Check those words from Mr. Klein again:
If new information emerges showing a connection between the Determination Unit’s decisions and the Obama campaign, or the Obama administration, it would crack this White House wide open. That would be a genuine scandal.
The question now is a simple one.
In 1974, “the smoking gun” was a tape recording that ended the Nixon presidency.
In 1998, the smoking gun was a blue dress – and it almost undid Bill Clinton’s White House.
Now the all-too-familiar pattern of scandal and its day-by-day drip-drip-drip nature has begun to set in. Newsmax is now quoting Washington attorney and conservative activist Cleta Mitchell as saying:
“There were nearly 100 groups across the country that got the very egregious set of letters from the IRS that were almost identical and they came from offices all over the country, so I know of at least 85 to 90, maybe more, organizations.”
Regular American all over the country are coming forward with their stories. Understanding the relationship between the Obama White House and the IRS union will be a must for congressional investigators.
President Obama is coming perilously closer to becoming the new Nixon. The next Bill Clinton.
And once again, as news of exactly what a president was doing in the Oval Office on a particular day and time goes public, yet again the old question becomes new.
What did the President know? And when did he know it?
The IRS scandal keeps getting closer and closer to the top of the White House food chain as Obama officials desperately try to spin their way out of mounting evidence and foul play. The Wall Street Journal is reporting President Obama’s top attorney knew about the IRS targeting weeks ago before news broke, but of course, Obama still didn’t know about it until he learned about it “from the news.”
The White House’s chief lawyer learned weeks ago that an audit of the Internal Revenue Service likely would show that agency employees inappropriately targeted conservative groups, a senior White House official said Sunday.
That disclosure has prompted a debate over whether the president should have been notified at that time.
In the week of April 22, the Office of the White House Counsel and its head, Kathryn Ruemmler, were told by Treasury Department attorneys that an inspector general’s report was nearing completion, the White House official said. In that conversation, Ms. Ruemmler learned that “a small number of line IRS employees had improperly scrutinized certain…organizations by using words like ‘tea party’ and ‘patriot,’ ” the official said.
President Barack Obama said last week he learned about the controversy at the same time as the public, on May 10, when an IRS official revealed it to a conference of lawyers.
The main question since this whole thing broke on May 10th is whether President Obama ordered the targeting, knew of targeting, or encouraged the targeting through his statements. Did this thing come from the top? Kim Strassel says of course it did.
Was the White House involved in the IRS’s targeting of conservatives? No investigation needed to answer that one. Of course it was.
President Obama and Co. are in full deniability mode, noting that the IRS is an “independent” agency and that they knew nothing about its abuse. The media and Congress are sleuthing for some hint that Mr. Obama picked up the phone and sicced the tax dogs on his enemies.
But that’s not how things work in post-Watergate Washington. Mr. Obama didn’t need to pick up the phone. All he needed to do was exactly what he did do, in full view, for three years: Publicly suggest that conservative political groups were engaged in nefarious deeds; publicly call out by name political opponents whom he’d like to see harassed; and publicly have his party pressure the IRS to take action.
Mr. Obama now professes shock and outrage that bureaucrats at the IRS did exactly what the president of the United States said was the right and honorable thing to do. “He put a target on our backs, and he’s now going to blame the people who are shooting at us?” asks Idaho businessman and longtime Republican donor Frank VanderSloot.
In the days since the Internal Revenue Service first disclosed that it had targeted conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status, new information has emerged from both the Treasury Inspector General’s report and congressional testimony Friday that calls into question key statements made by Lois G. Lerner, the IRS’s director of the exempt organizations division.
The clumsy way the IRS disclosed the issue as well as Lerner’s press briefing by phone were seen at the time as a public relations disaster. But even so, it is worth reviewing three key statements made by Lerner and comparing them to the facts that have since emerged.
“But between 2010 and 2012 we started seeing a very big uptick in the number of 501(c)(4) applications we were receiving and many of these organizations applying more than doubled, about 1500 in 2010 and over 3400 in 2012.”
Lerner made this comment while issuing a seemingly impromptu apology at an American Bar Association panel (it was later learned that this was a planted question – more on that below.) In her telling, the tax-exempt branch was simply overwhelmed by applications and so unfortunate shortcuts were taken.
But this claim of “more than doubled” appears to be a red herring. The targeting of groups began in early 2010, after the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizen’s United was announced on Jan. 21. The ruling paved the way for political groups to apply under a tax-exempt status known as 501(c)4. Most charities apply under 501(c)3, but under 501(c)4 nonprofit groups that engage in “social welfare” can also perform a limited amount of election activity.
At first glance, the Inspector General’s report appears to show that the number of 501(c)(4) applications actually went down that year, from 1,751 in 2009 to 1,735.
But it turns out that these are federal fiscal-year figures, meaning “2010” is actually Oct. 1, 2009 to Sept. 30, 2010, so the “2010” year includes more than three months before the Supreme Court decision was announced.
Astonishingly, despite Lerner’s public claim, an IRS spokeswoman was not able to provide the actual calendar year numbers. By allocating one-quarter of the fiscal year numbers to the prior year, we can get a very rough sense of the increase on a calendar-year basis.(Figures are rounded to avoid false precision; 2012 is not possible to calculate)
In other words, while there was an increase in 2010, it was relatively small. The real jump did not come until 2011, long after the targeting of conservative groups had been implemented. Also, it appears Lerner significantly understated the number of applications in 2010 (“1500”) in order to make her claim of “more than doubled.”
“I think you guys were reading the paper as much as I was. So it was pretty much we started seeing information in the press that raised questions for us and we went back and took a look.”
Here, Lerner suggests that she only found out about this issue when news reports appeared in February and March 2012 about tea party groups complaining that they were being targeted. But the IG timeline shows this claim to be false.
According the IG, Lerner had a briefing on the issue on June 29, 2011, in which she was told about the BOLO (“Be On the Look Out”) criteria that included phrases such as “Tea Party” or “Patriots.” The report says she raised concerns about the wording and “instructed that the criteria be immediately revised.” She continued to be heavily involved in the issue in the months preceding the new reports, according to the timeline.
“I don’t believe anyone ever asked me that question before.”
This was Lerner’s excuse during the media call for why she had not publicly addressed the issue before.
But in congressional testimony Friday, former acting director Steven T. Miller said he had discussed with Lerner about arranging to make a statement at a May 10 conference sponsored by the American Bar Association, knowing that the IG report would soon be released.
Lerner then contacted a friend, Celia Roady, a tax attorney with the Washington firm Morgan Lewis, to ask a question about the targeting, according to a statement by Roady on Friday. (Roady had previously denied this was a planted question when asked directly by participants at the meeting.)
So Lerner was dissembling when she suggested that a simple well-aimed question prompted the disclosure.
In fact, just two days before the ABA conference, Lerner appeared before Congress and was asked about the status of investigations into 501(c)(4) companies by Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.). She provided a bland answer about a questionnaire on the IRS Web site, failing to take the opportunity to disclose the results of the probe. (The clip is embedded below, with the question coming at 5:09.) Small wonder that Crowley is now calling for her to resign, saying that Lerner lied to him.
We gave the IRS the weekend to provide a response. A spokeswoman said they were not able to offer an explanation for Lerner’s remarks in time for our deadline.
The Pinocchio Test
In some ways, this is just scratching the surface of Lerner’s misstatements and weasely wording when the revelations about the IRS’s activities first came to light on May 10. But, taken together, it’s certainly enough to earn her four Pinocchios.
In what former Republican executive and activist Dylan Nonaka is calling a massive invasion of privacy that suggests a coordinated effort to target conservative groups, two IRS offices last year independently and simultaneously conducted costly audits and sought tea party-related training materials that they apparently believed could be tied to Nonaka.
Nonaka, who is the former executive director of the Hawaii Republican Party and a faculty member of the Arlington, Va.-based conservative activist training organization the Leadership Institute, is little-known outside of Hawaii. So when the now-infamous Cincinnati IRS office in 2012 demanded that the Hawaii Tea Party explain its “relationship with Dylan Nonaka” and the Leadership Institute, and “provide copies of the training material used by Dylan Nonaka” – all almost at the same time that the Baltimore IRS office separately began auditing the Leadership Institute and requesting its training materials – it wasn’t long before Nonaka became suspicious.
“It’s a little bit scary,” Nonaka told The Daily Caller, adding that the apparent coordination made it extremely unlikely that only two IRS officials were primarily behind the agency’s efforts to target conservative groups, as the IRS has claimed.
“To say that these were are a couple of rogue IRS agents, there’s just no way,” Nonaka said. “They obviously had to have done research into the state of Hawaii.”
BELOW – Four of the IRS’ questions for the Hawaii Tea Party. (Read the full request here)
The Hawaii Tea Party, based in Maui, was audited in 2011. But despite the IRS’ inquiries, Nonaka said he had only limited interaction with the group.
“I think I did one training with [the Hawaii Tea Party] through the Leadership Institute, when the Leadership Institute came to Hawaii,” Nonaka told TheDC.”I was never a member of the Hawaii Tea Party. I was never involved with them.”
Meanwhile, also in 2011, the Leadership Institute was under the IRS’ microscope.
“Our audit began June 1, 2011,” Leadership Institute spokeswoman Abigail Alger told TheDC. “We were asked for additional documentation in February 2012″ – just 19 days after the Hawaii Tea Party was asked for additional information.
“The Baltimore office asked for copies of our training material,” Alger said. “The questions ranged from turning over the content of our 2008 training materials, to giving them all the information on our 2008 interns. These were just college kids, but they asked who our 2008 interns went on to work for.”
“In May, the IRS had an internal workshop. Our audit was closed July of that year, with no evidence of wrongdoing,” Alger said. “By that point, we had spent $50,000 in legal fees.”
The Hawaii Tea Party was also cleared of wrongdoing by the Cincinnati office.
“It’s a pretty big invasion of privacy,” Nonaka said.