Where's Howard Baker when we need him?
The former Tennessee Senator's iconic question to John Dean - "What did the president know and when did he know it" - has been repeated in every presidential scandal since Watergate.
What about now?
We know that the White House counsel was told of the IG's report - and presumably its general contents - on April 22. Lanny Davis, a former aide to President Clinton, wonders how it's possible Kathryn Ruemmler, the president's personal lawyer and holding "one of the two or three most important positions on the White House staff," could have possibly failed to inform the president of this politically charged issue:
The White House counsel to the president, one of the two or three most important positions on the White House staff, must be more than a great lawyer, which Ms. Ruemmler reportedly is. The White House counsel must also have a sensitive political and media ear -- in other words, must be a first-rate crisis manager who understands the fundamental need to get the president out in front of the facts, and not be reactive or overly legalistic in determining crisis management strategy.
If Ms. Ruemmler did know about this IRS story and didn't inform the president immediately, then, respectfully, that must mean she didn't appreciate fully the mammoth legal and political implications for the U.S. government as well as the American people of a story involving IRS officials abusing power and possibly violating criminal laws.
It is also hard to understand why some people in the media who apparently knew about this foreknowledge by the White House counsel and her failure to tell the president missed this story and its significance.
I hope these reports are wrong. But we need to know -- and so does the president. If they are true, again with all due respect, I suggest she should immediately resign and be replaced by a counsel who is expert at the trio of disciplines required for that job -- law, media and politics.
I wrote an article at PJM asking Baker's question, and after laying out the facts, it's clear that President Obama is lying when he says he didn't find out about the IG report until the news broke last Friday. For the president to be telling the truth, either his White House counsel is brain dead or the most incompetent counsel in history.
We are asked to believe that officials from the IRS, the Treasury Department, and the White House are so politcally stupid that none of them recognized the extraordinary nature of what the IRS had been up to. They were all in the dark. And those with knowledge of the scandal never recognized its significance and didn't inform the president, or take swift action to halt the practice in its tracks.
Much of the media has still not caught up to the significance of this timeline. If Obama knew 3 weeks ago about the general issues that would be in the IG report, why did he sit on it? Obviously it is better to deliver bad news at a time of your own choosing and with some kind of damage control plan in hand. When Lois Lerner answered what appears to have been a planted question about IRS targeting conservatives and answered the seemingly out of the blue query by referring to notes already prepared, you have to wonder if the entire episode was staged as part of a PR campaign to limit the damage and protect Obama from the taint of scandal.
Sitting on the news that the IRS acted improperly is not an impeachable offense. But it is an offense against the integrity of the presidency to lie about it in order to limit political damage.