POLITICS: White House

White House helps fuel its own political controversies

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Politics,White House,Brian Hughes,Politics Digest

The White House on Monday acknowledged that top officials there knew a month ago that the IRS was being investigated for targeting conservative groups, but offered no apology for the Justice Department's spying on a second news organization.

Even as they labored to put controversy behind them, the White House officials' acknowledgements are likely only to fuel outrage on Capitol Hill over what lawmakers see as a presidential breach of constitutional boundaries.

Senior White House officials, including President Obama's chief of staff, Denis McDonough, were told last month -- earlier than previously thought -- that the Internal Revenue Service was under investigation for targeting conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status, but White House counsel decided not to tell Obama about it.

When asked if Obama was angry his top aides left him in the dark about potential political scandal, White House press secretary Jay Carney said the president viewed such actions as "entirely appropriate" and that "some matters are not appropriate to convey to him, and this is one of them."

At the same time, Carney was overwhelmed with questions about the Justice Department targeting Fox News reporter James Rosen and its tagging of Rosen as a criminal "co-conspirator" in the leak of sensitive government information about North Korea. The department not only monitored Rosen's phone records but got a subpoena that allowed officials to secretly review the reporter's personal email. The revelation comes a week after the Justice Department acknowledged that it had also secretly monitored the phones of Associated Press journalists.

"We are outraged to learn today that James Rosen was named a criminal co-conspirator for simply doing his job as a reporter," said Michael Clemente, Fox News' executive vice president of news. "In fact, it is downright chilling. We will unequivocally defend his right to operate as a member of what up until now has always been a free press."

Analysts said the monitoring of Fox News will raise additional concerns that Obama's administration is suppressing the work of journalists.

"What makes this alarming is that 'soliciting' and 'encouraging' the disclosure of classified information are routine, daily activities in national security reporting," said Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists' Project on Government Secrecy. "But for today's [intelligence community], these everyday reporting techniques are taken as evidence of criminal activity and grounds for search and seizure of confidential email."

Carney declined to answer whether, as a former reporter, he viewed the pursuit of sensitive government information as "criminal."

"Worst Briefing of Carney's tenure," one veteran Democratic strategist volunteered in an email to The Washington Examiner. "What the [expletive] was that?"

The IRS scandal will remain in the spotlight when the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., on Wednesday grills Deputy Treasury Secretary Neal Wolin. It was revealed at a hearing on Capitol Hill last week that senior Treasury officials knew of the IRS audit as early as last June.

bhughes@washingtonexaminer.com

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