When I read this piece in the Daily Caller yesterday, I have to admit I thought "oh hell." I assumed there was a good explanation for why the IRS commissioner had spent so much time in the White House (they aren't so dumb that they would openly plan an IRS jihad against the Tea Party right in the oval office) but I also knew this story would feed the scandal.
Garance Franke-Ruta of The Atlantic cleared it all up this morning:
The latest twist in the conservative effort to tie the IRS tax-exempt targeting scandal to the president is to focus on public visitor records released by the White House, in which former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman's name appears 157 times between 2009 and 2012. Unfortunately, few of those pushing this line have bothered to read more than the topline of that public information. Bill O'Reilly on Thursday called them the "smoking gun" and demanded of Shulman, "You must explain under oath what you were doing at the White House on 157 separate occasions." His statement built on a Daily Caller story, "IRS's Shulman had more public White House visits than any Cabinet member." An Investors Business Daily story and slew of blog items repeated the charges.
"The alibi the White House has wedded itself to is that it had to work closely with the IRS to implement ObamaCare," the Investor's Business Daily has written -- as if that were not true.
And yet the public meeting schedules available for review to any media outlet show that very thing: 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.
Indeed, of the 157 events Shulman was cleared to attend, White House records only provide time of arrival information -- confirming that he actually went to them -- for 11 events over the 2009-2012 period, and time of departure information for only six appointments.
Read on for the full documentation.
I recall this sort of exaggeration happening a lot during the Whitewater/Lewinsky imbroglios but this may be among the most sloppy. (Or perhaps the internet makes it more difficult for what used to be mostly talk radio gossip to stick.) Either way, this debunking of the story should put this mini-scandal to rest.
I said should. The right wing noise machine rarely lets the facts get in the way of a good scandal. The test will be how the major media deal with it and how much oxygen the right wing gasbags give it over the next few days. They tend not to care too much about facts when they think they've got a juicy scandal on the hook. We'll see. Remember, the idea here is to create an atmosphere of scandal. Each scandal point is less important than the impression of "where there's smoke there's fire." Not that you don't have to knock this nonsense down. But there is never any end to it, once the right gets it into their heads that they can completely cripple a president.
Everyone thinks trumped up scandals work against the right, but even if they lose in the short term it feeds their long term project. It's such a beautiful scam. They are the greatest practitioners of that which they claim to loathe but the more they demonstrate their own dishonesty and decadence, the more they convince the general public of their central thesis that government is unresponsive to the people's needs, too big and essentially corrupt. And we know where that leads.
Update: Greg Sargent illustrates one of the reasons the right finds scandal-mongering to be such a useful tactic in this post. If all else fails they can claim that any presidential proposals they don't like are attempted "distractions" from the scandal.