The Edge: What Did Obama Know?

National Journal Staff

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What Did Obama Know?

What did the president know and when did he know it? That simple question is at the heart of the scandals buffeting the White House, and little light has been shed so far.

Asked by Fox News' Chris Wallace where the president was in the aftermath of the Benghazi attacks, White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer dodged. On the Internal Revenue Service scandal, Pfeiffer's party line is that it would be more problematic if the president knew about the agency's problems and interfered.

The administration acknowledged today that senior White House officials, including Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler, were aware of the IRS wrongdoing—but did not tell President Obama—nearly three weeks before the agency acknowledged its mistakes.

On Thursday, Obama himself chose his words carefully. "I can assure you that I certainly did not know anything about the [IRS inspector general's] report before the IG report had been leaked through the press." He was asked about the overall malfeasance, but specifically said he didn't know about the report.

That parsing alone raises questions about the level of transparency coming from the White House. Read more

Josh Kraushaar


WHITE HOUSE HAD KNOWLEDGE OF IRS PROBE IN APRIL. The Obama administration acknowledged Monday that two high-ranking officials at the White House, Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler, were apprised in late April of the soon-to-be released Inspector General's report on the IRS showing the targeting of conservative groups. Spokesman Jay Carney said that the officials did not inform Obama of the probe, indicating such a move would be improper. Read more

OBAMA TO ADDRESS COUNTERTERRORISM POLICY IN SPEECH. President Obama is scheduled to discuss the administration's counterterrorism policy, including the use of covert drones and the planned closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, during a speech Thursday at the National Defense University, The Wall Street Journal reports. According to a White House aide, the president's speech is in keeping with his pledge to cooperate with Congress to ensure the legality and transparency of the drone program. Read more

LEW LIKELY TO FACE IRS QUESTIONS AT HILL HEARINGS. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew is scheduled to appear before a Senate panel Tuesday and a House panel Wednesday, and will likely be grilled over revelations that the IRS singled out conservative groups for extra scrutiny, National Journal's Catherine Hollander reports. Beyond the IRS scandal, Lew will be asked about a nearly 200 page annual report to Congress, which centers on seven themes, including housing finance, the Libor rate, fiscal imbalances, and risks from foreign economies, and contains plenty of fodder for lawmakers and their staffs willing to wade through the pages. Read more

FBI TRACKED FOX NEWS REPORTER IN LEAK INVESTIGATION. A recently revealed affidavit details the Federal Bureau of Investigation's efforts to uncover the source of potential leaks of classified information on North Korea, The Washington Post reports. During the investigation, the FBI tracked the State Department visits of Fox News' chief Washington correspondent, James Rosen, and monitored his calls with State Department security adviser Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, who was charged in 2010 with disclosing national defense information. The search warrant was approved by a federal judge on the grounds that there was probable cause that Rosen was a coconspirator in the alleged leak. Read more

  • Fox News' Brit Hume said today, "Where this crosses, it seems to me, a clear and bright line is when they subpoenaed the phone records on the pretext … that this activity was criminal. That places this administration in the position of saying that normal news-gathering activities of journalists are possibly criminal or are criminal. That is a little chilling." Read more

FIVE WAYS THE WHITE HOUSE CAN REGAIN THE PUBLIC'S TRUST.National Journal's Ron Fournier writes that each of these so-called scandals shares two traits. First, there is some element of "spin," the cynical art of telling just enough of the truth to avoid political embarrassment. Second, there is almost comical bungling. While denying involvement in high crimes and misdemeanors, the Obama administration appears to be pleading guilty to lesser crimes of bureaucratic incompetence. But that is an unsustainable position for a president who wants Americans to believe again in the power and grace of good government, particularly as it relates to the implementation of "Obamacare." Allies offer five ways the administration can restore the public's trust and regain control. Read more

  • Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, tells National Review that impeachment is an option for Obama regarding Benghazi, but that House Speaker John Boehner has told him to be "patient."

REPORT: FBI NOW INVOLVED IN BACHMANN CAMPAIGN INVESTIGATION. An investigation into the 2012 presidential campaign of Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., now involves the FBI, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports. An attorney for former Bachmann chief of staff Andy Parrish told the paper that his client had been "contacted by the FBI for purposes of an interview," and "will cooperate fully" with the investigation. Among the allegations dogging the now-defunct campaign are covert payments to state Sen. Kent Sorenson, and the use of Bachmann's leadership PAC to pay her campaign's political director. Read more

YAHOO BUYS TUMBLR FOR $1.1B. YAWN. It's official: Yahoo has reached a deal to acquire Tumblr for $1.1 billion. Understandably, a chunk of Tumblr's 117 million users are outraged over the news, National Journal's Brian Fung reports. They've been whipping up mocking parodies of a future Tumblr that's been defaced and soiled by its new owner. The deal is a reminder that despite the momentary shock of the merger, it's worth taking the longer view. And the longer view suggests that we may have entered the era of the billion-dollar buyout. Read more


SENATE TO HOLD IRS HEARING. The IRS's targeting of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status will be a focus of a Senate Finance Committee hearing scheduled for Tuesday. Witnesses will include since-resigned acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller; J. Russell George, Treasury inspector general for tax administration; and former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman.

KEYSTONE VOTE IN HOUSE. The House will vote this week on legislation approving the Keystone XL pipeline, the controversial project that would send carbon-heavy oil sands more than 1,700 miles from Canada to Texas. The Republican-controlled lower chamber has passed such bills at least a half-dozen times in the past two years. On Tuesday, the House Rules Committee will consider the measure, sponsored by Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., whose state is at the heart of the battle. That sets up a midweek vote on the bill, which is expected to pass.


"She shouldn't run as a front-runner." —Patti Solis Doyle, Hillary Rodham Clinton's former campaign manager on another potential presidential bid (Washington Post)


DID A PBS STATION TRY TO AVOID OFFENDING DAVID KOCH? WNET, a PBS affiliate in New York, offered to let billionaire David Koch sit in on a round-table discussion or offer a comment on a documentary, Park Avenue, about income inequality in which he was featured in a largely negative way, The New Yorker'sJane Mayer reports. At the time, Koch was a member of the board of directors for WNET. The president of the station, Neal Shapiro had concerns about the film, and offered the two options—which would air after the documentary—as "a courtesy." In the end, Koch's spokesperson released a statement calling the film "disappointing and divisive." Despite WNET's apparent efforts to placate him, Koch was "apparently so offended him that he cancelled his plan to make a large donation," Mayer reports Read more


ROUNDING UP A TOUGH WEEK FOR THE WHITE HOUSE. With three scandals dogging Barack Obama, the president continues to be a focal point on late-night television. David Letterman dove headlong, opening with a connection to the 40th anniversary of the Watergate hearings. He also brought baseball, the Republican Party, and Joe Biden into the mix. The Tonight Show's Jay Leno hit similar notes, comparing Obama to Richard Nixon. Saturday Night Live presented its season finale with a surprise Weekend Update appearance by former anchor Amy Poehler to rehash "Really!?! with Seth and Amy." The segment delved into  the IRS, the tea party, and Obama. Watch it here


OBAMA'S APPROVAL RATING STEADY AFTER TUMULTUOUS WEEK. Obama's approval rating remains between 50 percent and 53 percent -- according to two polls -- suggesting that for the time being, the controversies roiling Washington are not yet resonating with the rest of the country. The Cook PoliticalReport's Charlie Cook has noted that if Obama's poll numbers stay roughly in the high-40-to-low-50 range, the damage will likely be contained. At the same time, The Washington Post's Greg Sargent, a liberal voice, notes that the first polling numbers on the troika of Obama controversies show that Republicans overwhelmingly believe there is something there, while moderates and Democrats generally believe the president's version of events.


OBAMA'S TROUBLES COULD PUT MASS. IN PLAY—AGAIN. National Journal's Alex Roarty writes that it may be too early to tell whether history is repeating itself, but the Senate campaign between Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., and former Navy SEAL Gabriel Gomez is already closer than expected, evoking memories of the last Senate special election in Massachusetts, when Republican Scott Brown stunned Democrat Martha Coakley in the midst of the health care debate. In a sign of where the race could turn, the Gomez campaign has begun tying Markey to the recent turmoil in Washington, making the case that the 36-year congressman is part of a dysfunctional culture in the nation's capital. For now at least, they appear intent on taking advantage of Obama's problems. Read more

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