“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, bold print for emphasis:
“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? (Again bold print emphasis.)
“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, key point in bold print:
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, again with the bold print added for emphasis:
“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?