The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 5/20/2013
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:15 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for being here. I have no announcements to make, so I will go straight to your questions. Julie Pace.
Q Thank you. There seems to be a little bit of confusion about what exactly the White House Counsel’s Office was told the week of April 22nd about the IG report. Can you tell us what Kathy Ruemmler was told?
MR. CARNEY: Sure. Well, I appreciate the question. (Laughter.) There have been a lot of questions this morning that we've gotten based on recent reports about when we here at the White House learned of the Inspector General’s report, what we learned and how we learned, so I'd like to back up and just go through the fundamentals here first, if I may.
Number one, as the independent Inspector General testified and as his report says, he found no evidence that anyone outside of the IRS had any involvement in the inappropriate scrutinizing of conservative groups who were applying for tax exempt status.
Number two, no one in this building intervened in an ongoing, independent investigation or did anything that could be seen as intervening in that investigation.
Number three, the misconduct had stopped in May of 2012. So despite all the media interest in our April 2013 awareness, it’s important to remember that the misconduct, of course, had stopped almost a year earlier.
But going to your question, and in light of those questions, let me walk you through this because we don't have any interest in being anything other than clear with you about that timeline.
So, as we have said, the White House Counsel, Kathy Ruemmler, learned during the week of April 22nd -- the specific date is April 24th -- that the Inspector General was finalizing an audit. That's what they call this kind of report. At the time, the audit was still ongoing and the Inspector General had not issued its final report.
The White House Counsel’s Office routinely receives notification of pending Inspector General matters, as does Congress, and in fact, this was one of several IG reports likely to be released soon that were communicated to staff in the White House Counsel’s Office on April 16th in a series of items.
But on April 24th, as I said, the White House Counsel, Kathy Ruemmler, was informed that the Inspector General for Tax Administration was completing a report about line IRS employees improperly scrutinizing what are known as 501(c)(4) organizations by using words such as “tea party” and “patriot.” Counsel was further informed that the report had not been finalized and the publication date of the report was uncertain but likely soon.
While we had an indication of the likely findings, until the IG finalizes his report, the findings and conclusions are subject to change. And in fact, many IG reports do change significantly before they are published.
So to be clear, we knew the subject of the investigation and we knew the nature of some of the potential findings, but we didn’t have a copy of the draft report; we did not know the details, the scope or the motivation surrounding the misconduct; and we did not know who was responsible. Most importantly, the report was not final and still very much subject to change.
After that initial notification in April, the White House Counsel informed the Chief of Staff and other members of the senior staff. At no time did anyone on the White House staff intervene with the IRS Inspector General audit. There were communications between White House Counsel’s Office and White House Chief of Staff’s Office, with Treasury Office of General Counsel and Treasury’s Chief of Staff Office to understand the anticipated timing of the release of the report and the potential findings by the IG.
We know that the Hill also got briefings. As Congressman Issa said, he was aware of “approximately” what was in the report. But he, rightly, chose to not take action, because the cardinal rule is to not intervene in an independent investigation or take any steps that could be seen as intervening. That’s what we abided by, and that’s what any White House should do.
I just want to say that some reporting today suggests -- and this is I think worth noting -- suggests that given awareness of the potential findings, we should have done more. That could not be further from the right course of action. The cardinal rule, as I said, is that you do not intervene in an independent investigation, and you do not do anything that would be -- that would give such an appearance, particularly when the final conclusions -- as was the case here -- have not been reached. And that’s the doctrine we followed.
And the bottom line is -- and this isn’t just the most important fact, it’s what we have said from the beginning -- not the White House, nor Treasury intervened in the Inspector General’s audit. So I hope that -- anticipating this question, understanding there was some confusion about it, I hope that supplies the answers that you were hoping to get.
Q It supplies some of them. Can I just clarify a couple things? You said someone was told on April 16th in the Counsel’s Office.
MR. CARNEY: White House Counsel Kathy Ruemmler was notified on April -- the week of April 22nd. There was also a notification as part of just a series of items, IG-related items, from Treasury that this was upcoming -- again, very top line. But White House Counsel herself was not notified until later -- the next week.
Q And who was she notified by?
MR. CARNEY: Either within Treasury or by someone else in the White House Counsel’s Office. But the same notification process.
Q And who else besides Chief of Staff Denis McDonough was told about this?
MR. CARNEY: Some other members of the senior staff.
Q Can you tell us who?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have a list for you, no.
Q And then last week, when this all first came out, you said that the Counsel was told very broadly, but you didn’t mention anything else about other staff knowing. You didn’t mention some of these more specific details that they were told, including some of the words that this IRS office used to target some of these groups. Is that, what you’re telling us today, consistent with your statement last week that the Counsel was only told very broadly about this report?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think she was, as I just described and that the entirety of what she was told, broadly, that there is an Inspector General audit reaching its conclusion; the potential findings are that some people improperly targeted conservative organizations in their applications for tax exempt status. But there was no specificity about who, about motivation, certainly no names of involvement. And it was not concluded. And it’s important to know the way these things work, IG reports, that the finalization process can result in significant changes.
So our whole point has been that knowing that this was coming does not change the fact that there was nothing we could have or should have done about it, because it was an independent Inspector General report. And, again, as I said at the end, I think it’s somewhat ironic that there has been some suggestion that action should have been taken because we were aware that the IG was -- an independent IG was reaching the conclusion of a report and that it might have these findings, that somehow the President should have been notified or that we should have done something.
And, of course, the opposite is true, because these kinds of independent investigations need to be independent. There should be no intervention by a White House. And, of course, there was not in this case. And that’s why we had to wait, appropriately, until the report was publicized, or published, for the President to be able to review it and respond, as he did very quickly. He took action right away. He made sure that Secretary Lew asked for and accepted the resignation of the acting commissioner. He appointed a new acting commissioner. He very quickly made sure that the new acting commissioner would institute a top-down 30-day review of everything we could find out about this, or they could find out about this, to make sure that those who participated in the failings are held responsible, and that the activity doesn’t happen again.
Q But what I don’t understand is if the White House felt comfortable with the Counsel, the Chief of Staff, and other members of his senior staff knowing about this report, even very broadly, and was not concerned that just the mere fact of knowing it created the potential for interference, why couldn’t the President have also just known that this was coming without interfering?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, because it’s a judgment, in this case, the judgment of the White House Counsel, that this is not a matter that you should -- or that she should convey to the President. And that was her opinion that she expressed to other members of the senior staff -- that this is not the kind of thing, when you have an ongoing investigation or an ongoing audit, that requires notification to the President -- because what is important is that we wait until that kind of process is completed before we take action. And that’s what the President did.
Q Did the White House know in advance that the IRS was going to plant a question at the American Bar Association event on May 10th?
MR. CARNEY: No.
Q As a way of getting news out? No?
MR. CARNEY: No.
Q And was the White House involved at all in the strategy for sort of rolling out the disclosure of the report’s findings?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think that, as you’ve seen, we didn’t know that it was coming, and when it was reported on that Friday, that's how the President found out about it and some of us found out about it. So, no, we weren’t involved.
Q And further to what Julie had asked, you’ve given us some details --
MR. CARNEY: I just want to be clear because I said this in the earlier part -- there were conversations -- after White House Counsel was notified and told some senior staff members, there were conversations between staff here and Treasury about what was the timing going to be, what would the findings likely be, in anticipation of that. But there was no foreknowledge of when this happened.
Q And today you’ve talked about -- you’ve given us some more details about who knew what when -- the April 16th detail, the discussions between the Counsel’s Office and Treasury, et cetera. Why didn’t you tell us that week on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday when you talked about this?
MR. CARNEY: I just told you what I told you last week, which is that Kathy Ruemmler, the White House Counsel, was made aware the week of April 22nd. I've now gotten the specific date of April 24th. It does turn out when we looked at this that there was, as part of this notification process, a series of IG -- pending IG matters that was conveyed to, communicated to someone on the staff of the White House Counsel’s Office, but that information did not reach Kathy Ruemmler until the following week.
Q Can you just say when the other White House staffers were notified?
MR. CARNEY: After Kathy Ruemmler was notified on the 24th.
Q She briefed them?
MR. CARNEY: She informed them, yes.
Q Because when you were asked about this in a briefing last week about White House officials being aware, you just mentioned the Counsel's Office. You never mentioned that the Chief of Staff and others were notified.
MR. CARNEY: I think I said that White House Counsel knew. I think I said that I didn’t know until Friday. But I didn’t -- I'm getting this information to you now. The point is Counsel knew on April 24th -- White House Counsel did. And she informed some other senior staff. And in informing she also made clear that it was her view, and others shared this view, that there was not a need, in a situation like this with an ongoing investigation or audit, that the President should be notified.
Q What did Denis McDonough and the other members of the senior staff do with that information? Did they share it with others?
MR. CARNEY: There were discussions here and, as I said, there were conversations from the White House Chief of Staff’s Office with general counsel at Treasury and the Chief of Staff’s Office at Treasury about the timing -- anticipated timing of the release of the report and the potential findings, but there was -- again, the point was no intervention, no action, because it would be entirely inappropriate to do anything except ultimately wait for what the findings would be and then act.
Q Just to be clear, what’s the point of notifying anyone if nothing can be done?
MR. CARNEY: The way, as I understand it and it’s been described to me, is that when there are IG reports -- and it’s important to know because this is Washington-speak when we're talking about IG audits and things like that, but there are inspectors general all across the government and they are routinely looking into matters that are assigned to them or that they take up, and there are reports routinely completed or near completion. And when there is one that might get -- that an IG feels, or the overseeing body -- in this case Treasury -- feels might get a lot of attention, there are notifications made just to -- “on your radar” kind of thing. But there’s no action that's taken -- at least there should be no action taken. And that was the case here.
Q Well, why did she feel incumbent to tell Denis McDonough but not the President? Is it standard practice to insulate the President from controversial IG reports across the board?
MR. CARNEY: I think it was, again, a notification, just so you know, this is coming down, here’s what we know about it, we'll find out more when it’s completed, IG reports -- I'm just paraphrasing as sort of an example -- IG reports tend to change a lot before finalized, we don't know the specifics of who did this, why they did it --
Q -- know a draft audit was shared with Treasury in mid-March.
MR. CARNEY: Right, but not shared with us. Treasury oversees the IRS. That's my understanding, but I would refer you to Treasury. But, again, we did not -- as I described it to you, that was what we learned about -- or the Counsel learned about the potential or likely findings, that there were line employees at the IRS who improperly targeted conservative groups with the language that I just used, and that this report was likely to be completed soon, although we didn’t have a specific date.
Q It doesn’t answer why the President wasn’t told but McDonough was.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think as I noted earlier, in these situations, the Counsel made the decision that this is not the kind of thing that you notify the President of, of an investigation that’s not complete, because it wouldn't be appropriate to do so.
Q Can you just figure out -- confusion about how involved Sarah Hall Ingram has been at the IRS division in question. If you go to their website, she’s still to this day listed as commissioner of the Office of Tax Exempt/Government Entities Division. But the IRS says she’s also been assigned to help head up the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. So throughout the time in question, was she in charge of the office that did targeting --
MR. CARNEY: I think you would have to ask -- my understanding based on what I've seen is that she was reassigned to another responsibility. I understand the title may have -- she may have kept the title, but that's the kind of detail that you’d have to ask IRS and Treasury.
Q Would the President like to see somebody else --
MR. CARNEY: I think it’s also important to note that, as I understand it, based on the IG’s report, which is how I got my information on this, that she is not named in the report, and as far as we know, there’s been no suggestion that she did anything improper. But the President has asked the new acting IRS commissioner to conduct a top-down 30-day review to look at these questions about accountability and look at how -- to take measures to ensure that this doesn’t happen again.
Q Would he like her to recuse herself from the role for 30 days?
MR. CARNEY: Again, this is a question I think appropriately addressed to the new leadership at IRS and at Treasury. IRS is conducting a 30-day review. Before you decide that somebody is culpable of something I think you need to get the facts first. And based on my understanding of the IG report, this is not addressed. So there is a 30-day top-down review being conducted by the new acting IRS commissioner, and I expect that some of these issues will be looked at.
Q Jay, but for all the questions about who knew what a few weeks ago at the White House, isn't the question back further? How was this allowed to go on for 18 months? I mean, there were public reports while this was still happening of groups complaining that they had been asked these outrageous questions --
MR. CARNEY: I think that's a great question. I think that's why there was an IG audit, I believe in response in part to congressional inquiries, and the finding -- but I take your question. That's why you saw the President’s response, which was very clear. He was outraged by the behavior; he thought the conduct was inappropriate, that people need to be held responsible -- and that process has begun -- and we need to make sure that nothing like this can happen again. Nobody has been more outraged by the reported conduct here than the President of the United States.
Q Jay, with all due respect, the outrage from the President came last week. This was going on --
MR. CARNEY: The outrage of the President came within hours after the release of the report.
Q What I'm saying is there were public reports that this stuff was going on almost a year before the presidential election. How is it that nobody in the administration had some responsibility even before there is an Inspector General report -- say, hey, by the way, this kind of activity shouldn’t be going on, so let’s make sure and take steps --
MR. CARNEY: Again, I would direct you to the IG who investigated this matter, to the Treasury Department and others who addressed this matter. I can tell you that what we're talking about here was the ongoing Inspector General audit, the fact that we were notified -- the White House Counsel was notified that it was coming to a conclusion. And like Chairman Issa and others, we did not prejudge it; we waited until the report came out before we acted. And the President acted very quickly.
Q You're missing the point of my question. Public reports almost a year before the election. Is there any responsibility from the administration of saying, hey, IRS, we don't treat groups differently based on politics?
MR. CARNEY: I think that it is absolutely --
Q Or we wait for the report after the election to make a comment.
MR. CARNEY: You're saying accusations, and I think -- my understanding is in response to those accusations, there was an IG audit launched. That is appropriate. And the findings are what we now know. And the President’s response to those findings could not be more clear. People need to be held responsible, and we need to make sure that this activity doesn’t happen again. Because it’s very important that the American people believe that the IRS applies our tax laws fairly and neutrally.
Q Okay. And I'm also just a little confused on this planted question. First of all, does the White House approve of that tactic, of releasing information through a planted question?
MR. CARNEY: I don't know anything more about it than what I read in the paper. Our feeling has been from the beginning, since we were notified of the impending completion of the IG report, that we would refrain from commenting on reports about draft language, reports about what may or may not be in the findings of the IG until the IG actually published his report. When that happened, the President responded very quickly, both within hours after the publication of the report, and then again the next day when he met with Treasury leadership and the acting IRS commissioner’s resignation was accepted and the President appointed a new IRS commissioner.
Q And just one more question. Does the President approve of the Justice Department’s handling of the Jin-Woo Kim leak investigation? We now know that the FBI investigators in this case not only seized James Rosen’s phone records; they went through and read his emails, they tracked his comings and goings inside the State Department. Does the President approve of that kind of action by the Justice Department against a reporter?
MR. CARNEY: I will refer you to what the President said in response to a question about another matter along these lines, and that is that he is a strong defender of the First Amendment and a firm believer in the need for the press to be able to conduct investigative reporting and facilitate a free flow of information. He is also, as a citizen and as Commander-in-Chief, insistent that we protect our secrets, that we protect classified information, and that leaks -- that we take very seriously the leaks of classified information because leaks can endanger the lives of men and women in uniform and other Americans serving overseas for our country.
And that is the balance he seeks and it is reflected in the media shield law that his administration negotiated with the Senate in 2009 and which the President is very happy to see the Senate take up again. That’s a balance that was endorsed at the time by -- from media organizations to federal prosecutors.
I cannot, of course, comment on a specific ongoing criminal investigation.
Q Jay, do you approve of those kind of tactics as a former reporter?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I cannot comment on a specific ongoing investigation. I certainly share -- and I think most Americans do -- the President’s belief that we need to have a press that is able to pursue investigative journalism and that we have to defend the First Amendment. And I also think it’s very important, as I think members of both parties have said, that we need to make sure that leaks are not tolerated, because leaks that can endanger the lives of our men and women, and that endanger our national security need to be taken very seriously.
But that is, again, not a comment on a specific case because I cannot comment on a specific case.
Q To follow up then -- the subpoena says James Rosen is a potential criminal because he’s a reporter. Is the White House comfortable with that standard never before seen in a leak investigation?
MR. CARNEY: Again, Major, I understand the question and I appreciate it, but I cannot comment on an ongoing --
Q But that’s not ongoing. That happened. That’s in the subpoena. You can read it on the web right now.
MR. CARNEY: I know, but it’s part of an ongoing criminal investigation, Major, and I simply can’t comment on it.
Q -- to regard a reporter in a subpoena as a potential criminal for doing what reporters do?
MR. CARNEY: Major, I understand the question. I think that the appropriate place to address these questions is to the Department of Justice and to those actually engaged in this criminal investigation. I think if you look at the story, there are people who are talking about it, and I would refer you to them. I simply cannot, again, go into --
Q But the President has prioritized leak investigations in ways no other Commander-in-Chief has. It’s his priority that the Justice Department is carrying out.
MR. CARNEY: I think the President, like his predecessors, believes that --
Q I’m curious if he’s comfortable with this particular application of his priority.
MR. CARNEY: The President believes, I think as all of his predecessors believed, that it is imperative that leaks that can jeopardize the lives of American men and women serving overseas should not be tolerated, and that leaks that can jeopardize our national security are very serious matters.
And I would point you to what the FBI Director, Director Mueller, and the Attorney General have said about the seriousness of one of these leaks. Director Mueller testified that, “Leaks such as this that threaten ongoing operations put at risk the lives of sources, make it much more difficult to recruit sources, and damage our relationships with our foreign partners.”
That is why we have to take these seriously. It is also why we need to find the right balance to ensure that our First Amendment is defended and to assure that reporters are protected. That’s why the President helped negotiate the media shield law that made its way out of committee in 2009, and that’s why he supports its reintroduction today.
Q In your summary at the top, talking about the IRS, you mentioned that the IG audit -- which is the proper word for it -- it’s not an investigation, it’s an audit -- concluded that there was no outside interference or suggestion. Do you believe that closes the question? Because several of the committees on Capitol Hill don’t believe it closes the question.
MR. CARNEY: We support congressional oversight, legitimate congressional oversight in this matter. We support -- in fact, the President asked for the 30-day top-down review that will be conducted by the new acting IRS commissioner. And I believe I’ve seen reported that the Department of Justice is looking into this matter. All of this is appropriate as far as we are concerned. I am simply telling you that the matter that sparked --
Q But it doesn’t close it?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think that there can and will be and should be oversight and more questions asked. I mean, one of the things that I made clear in answer to Jessica’s question is that we don’t have all the details about who was responsible for this inappropriate behavior. And that’s why the President wants those who are responsible to be held accountable, and he wants steps taken to ensure that it cannot happen again -- because he has zero tolerance for this. He believes it’s very important that the IRS carry out and implement our tax laws in a neutral and fair way, and that Americans needs to be confident that that is happening. And any indication that it’s not needs to be taken very seriously, which is how he has taken it.
Q You obviously asked more questions in preparation for this briefing than were asked and answerable last week. So I’m curious -- do you know if Treasury Secretary Geithner was informed of the IG report, even in its preliminary state, and if he in any way communicated that to the President?
MR. CARNEY: I would refer you to the Treasury Department. And I think that Secretary Lew and others have addressed this, but I have no knowledge of that.
Q Can I follow on IRS? I just want to know -- just yesterday, Dan Pfeiffer, on the shows, was saying that the Treasury Department informed the White House but did not get into any, in his word, “details” of what happened on the IRS situation. And yesterday -- last week, rather, at this podium, you said that, in the week of April 22nd, you were only informed that the IG was finishing a review about matters involving the office in Cincinnati.
MR. CARNEY: Well, that’s one of the things I said. I made clear that it was topline conclusions, and that’s --
Q But no details.
MR. CARNEY: And there were no details. I think I just explained to you the details -- the phrases and the fact that they would likely find, likely conclude that this conduct had occurred inappropriately. But we still do not know who’s responsible --
Q That sounds like some detail. Not like every single detail, but it’s beyond --
MR. CARNEY: I think you’re parsing my words. I’m here to tell you that the information that I just provided to you at the top is the information that White House Counsel received; it’s the information that she conveyed to the some senior staff. And the most important point here is that, contrary to some suggestions about how we should have responded to that, there was no effort to intervene in an ongoing Inspector General inquiry/audit report/investigation, nor should there be.
And that is why, to the chagrin of some who would have liked us to get out in front of this more, we appropriately waited until the Inspector General published that report and we had all of the information that was available at least in that report to act on and respond to.
Q You also said at the top of this briefing the President acted right away, took decisive action, you say. So why then is -- the key person who has been pushed out is Steven Miller, who was planning to retire in June anyway, but also --
MR. CARNEY: Well, you know that’s actually mischaracterization. His title was expiring. He could easily have been reappointed had this not happened and I suppose he might have been.
Q But he’s on the job today. He’s leaving Wednesday, as I understand it.
MR. CARNEY: I would refer you -- he may be, Ed. I can refer you to the IRS.
Q So in terms of accountability, how is the person still on the job?
MR. CARNEY: I believe he might he be testifying on the Hill, Ed, which I’m sure some people would like to see. So the fact is he was resigned from that post --
Q He can also testify as a private citizen, of course.
MR. CARNEY: I’m not sure I take your point. But the fact is he’s resigned entirely from the IRS, and a new acting commissioner has been appointed.
Q How can you say, on the James Rosen situation, that part of the goal here is to protect reporters when the administration went through his personal email? How are you protecting reporters?
MR. CARNEY: What I did say was not respond specifically to a question about the case. I said that the President believes it’s important that we find the proper balance between the need, absolute need to protect our secrets and to prevent leaks that can jeopardize the lives of Americans and can jeopardize our national security interests, on the one hand, and the need to defend the First Amendment and protect the ability of reporters to pursue investigative journalism.
That balance is reflected in the media shield law that the administration negotiated with the Senate in 2009 and that the President supported and which he supports to this day, and is being reintroduced. That bill that the administration negotiated was endorsed by media organizations and federal prosecutors. And I think that that is an indication of the fact that it at least came some way to achieving the balance that the President has talked about.
Q While we wait for the legislation to potentially pass, in the meantime, the administration is acting in the AP case and in the Rosen case as well. Do you actually believe, as a former reporter, that someone trying to get sensitive information from government officials as a reporter is a criminal?
MR. CARNEY: Well, Ed, I would just tell you that I can’t comment on a specific case. I’m here as --
Q But in principle?
MR. CARNEY: But I’m here as a spokesman for the President and the White House. I can’t comment on an ongoing criminal investigation, nor should I. And I think there’s tons of precedent for why that is the case.
Secondly, I think that I share the President’s -- personally, as a former reporter, but also in this capacity -- I share the President’s belief that we need to find a balance. And I think that most Americans believe that we need to protect our secrets and make sure that classified information that, if leaked, could endanger the lives of Americans or sources is not leaked, and that we take that seriously. But we also have to allow for reporters to freely investigate as part of their jobs. And that’s what I was referring to when I was talking to his support for the media shield law.
Q Can I just follow that quickly?
MR. CARNEY: Sorry, let me --
Q No, I want to -- I guess I’m trying to understand. So does the President believe in the media shield law -- the one that he didn’t like and then you guys renegotiated -- does he believe in the media shield law that a reporter’s private email and private phone calls should be subject to some sort of subpoena?
MR. CARNEY: I recognize that, as a former practitioner, as a clever way to get me to comment on a specific case, but I can't. What I can tell you is that the President believes that the media shield law that his administration helped negotiate with the Senate achieves, at least in part, the balance that he says he supports and that he wants to see.
And as a firm defender of the First Amendment and the freedom of the press, he seeks that balance even as Commander-in-Chief. He believes it’s essential that we are able to take seriously very serious leaks that can jeopardize our national security, jeopardize our men and women. And the fact that we describe it as a balance reflects that this is a difficult issue. But --
Q Is the point of going after leakers an attempt to keep people from leaking?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I would refer you to the Justice Department. I think in general the issue is to make sure that leaks that are very serious are taken seriously. In terms of how that action -- how that is acted upon by the Department Justice, I would refer you to them.
Q No, but, I mean, is the intended consequence to prevent people from giving out any information?
MR. CARNEY: You’re asking me about the purposes of a criminal investigation, and I think that if there’s a criminal investigation writ large, obviously there is at least a suspicion of criminal activity. I would refer you to the Department of Justice about the purpose of a criminal investigation.
Q But your intent is to make sure people are --
MR. CARNEY: I think the intent of criminal investigations is to uncover whether crimes have been committed and to hold people who have committed crimes accountable.
Q All right. On the IRS, is the President at least upset that basically his entire senior staff knew of this and he didn’t?
MR. CARNEY: First of all, his entire senior staff did not know. There were some senior staff who were alerted by White House Counsel. Secondly, the President -- well, believes and I think he has faith that it is entirely appropriate that nobody here took any action in any way to intervene in an ongoing audit investigation by the Inspector General.
Q Nobody is saying any action, but just not giving him a heads-up?
MR. CARNEY: I wouldn’t say nobody is saying that -- or at least suggesting it. But, no, he believes it’s entirely appropriate that some matters are not appropriate to convey to him, and this is one of them. The fact that there’s an ongoing --
Q You’ve asked him this specific question -- is he satisfied that he had to learn through the media and not through his senior staff?
MR. CARNEY: The President is obviously aware of the course of these reports. I would tell you that it is entirely appropriate that the President not be notified of something of an ongoing, not concluded Inspector General audit of IRS activity -- because I guess the suggestion of alerting him is that then he would do something. And if he were to do something, imagine what that story would look like.
It’s something that we can look to the history books to get a feel for. And it is absolutely the cardinal rule, as we see it, that we do not intervene in ongoing investigations. And that’s true of one of the matters that’s come up with regards to reporters, and it’s true -- because that’s an ongoing criminal investigation or criminal investigations conducted by the Department of Justice -- and it’s true of an Inspector General’s audit of the IRS.
Q Is the President satisfied with the job Eric Shinseki has done as Secretary of Veterans Affairs?
MR. CARNEY: The President is. He has also made clear to --
Q He is satisfied with the job he’s done?
MR. CARNEY: Well, he is. He is satisfied. He has confidence in General Shinseki. But he has made it clear to, as I’ve said in the past, to the General and to others that he expects results as they try to tackle this very difficult issue of the backlog at the VA.
And this is something that has the attention of the President. It has the attention of the Chief of Staff. We are monitoring efforts to alleviate the backlog very closely. This is something that the President has made clear to all of us he wants to see action on.
Peter, then Mark.
Q Thank you, Jay. Does the President believe that the Justice Department has complete autonomy in how it pursues or carries out leak investigations? Or does the President believe there are some -- there is a balancing act between protecting the working rights of journalists and also getting to the bottom of leak investigations? Has he shared his opinion with Attorney General Holder about how that balance should be struck?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I can tell you that back in 2009 there was a letter from, I believe, the Attorney General and the ODNI in support of -- if my memory is correct -- in support of the media shield legislation. And I think that reflects as a policy matter the President’s position. I don’t have any conversations to read out to you that the President has had in the past with the Attorney General. I think that that President’s views are clearly expressed and have been for some time, since he was a senator.
There are, as I understand it -- but I think you have to get this information more specifically from the Department of Justice -- rules and procedures that are followed in these matters. But again, that’s something not housed here. That’s just something I read in the paper.
Q A follow-up question. In terms of the timeline issue, Congress is now looking into questions involving the IRS. They want to know -- they’re asking questions about what administration officials knew what when. To what degree will the White House cooperate with these reviews and inquiries? Will you share emails, provide witness testimony? To what degree --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not going to anticipate how that would play out, excect to say that, as I said earlier and as others have said, that we believe that legitimate oversight in this matter is something that we will cooperate with, and should. We think it’s a very serious issue.
As the President has made clear, we think that it’s wholly inappropriate that this conduct occurred regardless of the motivation. And, again, we have some information about whether -- what the motivation was or wasn’t, based on the IG’s report and his testimony. But even if the motivation wasn’t nefarious or partisan or political, it is still inappropriate conduct. It is still not the kind of conduct that we can tolerate at the IRS, which is why the President has spoken out so clearly and why he’s taken the action that he has.
Q Last question. Republicans on the Hill have said part of the reason the President may have found out when he did from media reports is to preserve deniability for him, that White House officials might have been interested in that. Could you speak to that particular charge?
MR. CARNEY: Well, it’s an absurd suggestion. It is entirely appropriate, as the White House Counsel did, to decide that this was not a matter to inform the President about. It was an ongoing investigation or audit by the Inspector General into activity at the IRS. It was past conduct -- I think that’s important, too. This was not something that could be that upon learning about, someone could have said, okay, we need to take action now because it’s happening as we speak. It was conveyed that this was past conduct that had ceased almost a year prior and, therefore, it was entirely appropriate to wait until there were the final results of the IG report before acting. And, again, that is why the President found out from news reports, because those news reports occurred prior to the report actually being released.
Q Jay, it’s still not clear to me why senior staff wouldn’t think it was worthwhile to let the President know if there’s something possibly politically explosive coming down the pipeline, and that, Mr. President, you ought to know that this is coming even though you can’t act on it right now.
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, that was a decision made, appropriately, by the White House Counsel that this was --
Q You say “appropriately.” Did the President not feel, you should have told me about this kind of thing; it’s coming down the pipeline --
MR. CARNEY: No.
Q -- you can prepare to act even if you’re not going to act right away.
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, that’s not something that was necessary to inform the President about. It is not appropriate. Because, again, it begs the question, as you included in your question, okay, then what should he do? And it would be inappropriate for him or anyone else here to take any action that would intervene in an ongoing investigative matter like the IRS audit of -- or rather, the IG audit of IRS activity. And that’s why it was the appropriate action to take to wait until the report came out.
I mean, I think that that -- it was conduct that had happened in the past. It was not ongoing. There was an indication at the topline level of what the findings would likely be, although the audit was not complete and those findings can and have changed in the past. And once that report was released, the President acted very quickly and responded very quickly. And it was not necessary or appropriate to inform him of an ongoing IG audit.
Q Are you aware of any information that was withheld from the President that he later said, hey, you should have let me know that was coming?
MR. CARNEY: No.
Q Jay, last Monday you said that it was your understanding that the Counsel’s Office was alerted the week of April 22nd, this year, only about the fact that the IG was finishing a review about matters involving the office in Cincinnati. But that now sounds more like what you’re describing the Counsel’s Office found out about on April 16th.
MR. CARNEY: Well, no -- look, matters involving -- that was shorthand -- “matters involving the office in Cincinnati” -- in other words, the fact that there was conduct --
Q But that’s sounds pretty topline. And now you’re saying that the information was actually -- that the finding that line IRS employees had improperly scrutinized certain 501(c)(4) organizations by using words like “tea party” and “patriot.”
MR. CARNEY: Right. And I’m making clear now what activity in Cincinnati -- because it had been reported already when I answered that question -- was very specifically about, as I just said, line IRS employees in Cincinnati improperly scrutinizing 501(c)(4) organizations by using words like “tea party” and “patriot.” The Counsel was further informed that the report had not yet been finalized, and the publication date of a report was uncertain but likely soon.
So that’s the extent of what the notification was. In any case, the most important point is that that information was based on a report that -- a notification about a report that had not been concluded, and that no action could or should be taken until that report was concluded, which is why -- and no intervention -- which is why we adopted the posture we did, which was, in spite of the incoming from the press and others, we waited appropriately until the report was published before the President took action in response to the report. Because up to that point, it was just press reports based on supposed leaks or partial leaks of a draft report from the IG.
Q But what was the difference, really, between the information that was found out on April 24th and then the news reports on May 10th? Because it was that information about the IRS using words like “tea party” and “patriot” to scrutinize these groups, and the President still waited the whole weekend to comment on this after --
MR. CARNEY: He waited until he -- I mean, he was asked -- he had to make some general comment in response to a question, but we waited for a full response until we had a report. I mean, I think you’re point is right -- it was basic information when the White House Counsel got it. It was still basic information when it hit the news reports. And our decision was that it would not be appropriate for the President of the United States to take action based on press reports on anonymously sourced leaks, partial leaks of a draft IG report.
Q But there was essentially three weeks between both of those times of getting that information from April 24th to May 10th. And White House officials, senior staff, had had discussions, as you just said, about how to respond to it and what those preliminary findings would be. So why did it seem like the White House, the President wasn’t better prepared to address this when it came out on May 10th?
MR. CARNEY: Again, the conversations were based on notification of this as yet, at that point, completed IG audit. There were discussions about when that audit would be completed and what its potential findings might be. And as I said earlier, that kind of notification via Treasury comes when there is an expectation with a conclusion of a report that there might be interest in it at a congressional or media level. But all of that is anticipating the release of a report and the reaction we might have to it.
And, again, the initial disclosure of it on that Friday was not anticipated. The report was not completed. We were waiting until the report was completed.
Q And just to clarify, is it the Treasury General Counsel’s Office that tells the White House General Counsel’s Office, or is it another channel from Treasury?
MR. CARNEY: I think that’s correct, that that’s how the notification happened.
Q This is not a question about an ongoing criminal investigation.
MR. CARNEY: Excellent. (Laughter.)
Q It’s a question about the balance that the President says he wants to strike between press freedoms and national security interests. Does the President see a circumstance in which a reporter soliciting information from a government source is committing a criminal act in doing so?
MR. CARNEY: As I said to Chuck, that is --
Q It’s not. It’s about what the President believes and it’s valid.
MR. CARNEY: The President believes that we need to find this balance. The President believes in and defends the First Amendment. The President believes the press needs to be able to pursue investigative journalism. The President also believes that, as Commander-in-Chief and as a citizen, that it is important that classified information that, if leaked, could be harmful to our national security and endanger the lives of Americans or those who are helping the United States must be taken seriously, that we cannot allow that to happen, and if we don’t take it seriously, there are consequences to that.
And so that is the balance he seeks. Asking me that question --
Q Who decides that harm? If a government source wants to give it up they’re making a judgment then and there as well --
MR. CARNEY: Again, I can't address the question about -- that goes specifically to a report today about an ongoing criminal investigation. I understand the interest in it, but it is just not appropriate for me, again, based on a news report, or in any case, to talk about an ongoing criminal investigation --
Q I just don't think that's what I'm asking.
MR. CARNEY: -- into what is being reported into a very serious leak. I can't do it. What I can tell you is where the President comes down broadly on these issues, as reflected not just in what he said last week but where he’s been since he was a senator and the legislation that he supports -- that he supported and supports to this day.
And as I think I said last week on the broad matter, I know because I've spent time talking to him in general as a former reporter and as someone who works with him and for him now that he believes very strongly in the need for reporters to be able to pursue investigative journalism; that he believes that that balance has to be struck in a way that allows that freedom to take place. But he also has to be mindful of the need to protect classified information because of our national security interests.
Q On a non-ongoing criminal investigation --
MR. CARNEY: Are you going to ask me about Myanmar?
Q No, I'm asking -- prior to your service here you were bureau chief of Time magazine -- one of your reporters just prior to you becoming bureau chief got caught in a leak investigation. What would you have said if the government told you that he had been involved in a crime for reporting on the Valerie Plame case?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, Peter, it’s really --
Q I'm asking about -- talking about this as your years as a journalist.
MR. CARNEY: I understand the interest because of my former occupation and I can tell you that I feel as the President does, very strongly in the need to ensure that we have a press that's able to pursue investigative journalism freely, but we also have to protect those national security interests that are at stake.
And again, I think I mentioned what Director Mueller had said about one of the matters that's under discussion now. This is serious -- these are serious issues. In terms of procedures that are followed in their investigations, I have to refer you to the Department of Justice. They’re the ones who have the answers.
Q I'm talking about in 2005, should Matt Cooper have gone to jail for reporting --
MR. CARNEY: That's a hypothetical based on --
Q It’s not a hypothetical -- that was a very real case, a very real situation. As bureau chief, what would you have said if the Department of Justice came to you and said Matt Cooper was going to jail because he --
MR. CARNEY: You're saying, what would I have said if they had said, and that's a hypothetical.
Q It was a very real case and they could have made the exact same logical leap that the Department of Justice seemed to have made in 2009 in this case --
MR. CARNEY: Again, there’s a Department of Justice ongoing criminal investigation into a specific matter that I can’t comment on. And that case has been played out and written much about, including by Mr. Cooper and others, and the history of that is well known. I’m not going to extrapolate hypothetically about what might have happened in that and how it relates to an ongoing criminal investigation. But I think it was a great effort. (Laughter.)
Q I mean, is it fair to say, though, that President Obama’s view of this balance tilts extremely heavily towards the government’s interest and away from the press’s?
MR. CARNEY: Absolutely not. That’s why it’s called a balance.
Q Jay, can I just go back on the IRS to April 16? You mentioned that the White House Counsel was given information in a series of items for her attention and that this was relatively routine to alert her, and then she discussed it with the White House Chief of Staff. I just want to follow up to make sure I understand. If that series of items or any other series of items that was presented to her includes information about an IG report, it is the President’s desire and the practice here that he is not notified of an IG report when it’s underway until it’s completed. Is that what you’re saying?
MR. CARNEY: I can't tell you that, as a general matter, when there are ongoing investigations like this, the White House Counsel makes the call about whether or not, after she’s been notified, who she should also alert. And in this case -- and I think that it reflects a general approach when there is an ongoing investigation, or audit, as it is termed here, into a matter like this that was not complete, that it was not necessary or appropriate to notify the President. Because we knew that that report would be concluded; we knew that there would potentially be changes in the report. I mean, as a general matter, that can happen between -- in the final stages of an IRS audit -- I mean, IG audit in this case of the IRS. And so that was the decision of Counsel and the recommendation of Counsel to others.
But, truly, as a routine matter, this is not -- this is just -- there’s a lot of information that courses through a White House, and matters that rise to the level of presidential attention. There’s a lot of decision-making that goes into that, and this was certainly not one that it was deemed appropriate or necessary to alert the President to.
Q So you're saying, for audits or IG investigations, the President is sometimes informed?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not, I’m just saying -- you’re trying to put words in my mouth, and --
Q I’m trying to clarify.
MR. CARNEY: No, I understand you’re trying to get a general principle here.
MR. CARNEY: I think that the Counsel, as I’m sure has been the case in past White Houses, makes a decision about what information, what notification that he or she receives merits conveying to the President or conveying to other senior staff. And in this case, she made the judgment that it did not.
And again, I think that the focus on this is interesting --
Q I'm not talking about the results --
MR. CARNEY: No, but the focus on this is interesting because it does beg the question -- if there is criticism out there that the President wasn’t notified in advance, what is the suggestion, that he should have done something about it in advance? Because --
Q No, I’m interested because --
MR. CARNEY: -- obviously that would wholly inappropriate.
Q I’m just interested because IG reports are not unusual, and members of Congress in this case requested this. And my question is really about is the President always going to wear blinders if an IG report is going on? And that's what I’m trying to get at.
So in the last month -- I just want to make sure I understand -- when the President sat down every day with his Chief of Staff or he met with his Treasury Secretary, they understood in general what was happening with this particular issue and they never said anything to the President?
MR. CARNEY: Well, that's correct, beginning with April 24th, in terms of the White House Counsel and the Chief of Staff. Again, I think any examination of the previous three weeks, leading up to last week, would say that there was a lot of information that could be discussed in the meetings with the President, and there was.
Q One other follow-up. The President has a Legislative Affairs Director and you all monitor what goes on on the Hill very closely. That's routine. When a member of Congress requests an audit, an independent audit, isn’t the White House customarily aware through the Legislative Affairs Office which members of Congress are requesting that and whether that was --
MR. CARNEY: I don't think we have members of Congress come through the White House on their way to requesting action by inspectors general.
Q No, no, no, but you monitor what they're doing, so --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not sure that in that case that we’re not -- I don't know as a broad matter how closely that’s monitored. Again, I think it’s fair to say there are scores of ongoing inspector general audits and investigations happening as we speak, so --
Q So, for instance, what Congressman Issa does, you do monitor pretty closely, correct?
MR. CARNEY: Well, because a chairman like this is engaging directly with the White House and the administration, requesting information as part of an oversight matter. That is different from asking or requesting an independent inspector general review or audit --
Q So you’re saying you don't know, though? You just -- you don't know. I'm just asking, just saying --
MR. CARNEY: Alexis, I think you’re kind of -- I'm not sure of the point you're trying to make here. But the fact is that there’s a lot of ongoing IG reviews happening and they're routine in the sense of their number. Some of them have to do with very serious matters. Some of them conclude that non-serious things happened. This was obviously something that concluded that activity took place that, as the President views it, is entirely inappropriate, and that people need to be held accountable and we need to take action to ensure it doesn't happen again.
Q So one other clarification. When you were gathering information last week -- just to follow up on what the front row was asking -- in what you could tell us about when the White House first knew about the IRS discussion and everything that you told us about the White House Counsel, I just want to make sure I understand -- you did, or you did not, know that she had also advised Denis McDonough, the Chief of Staff, and other senior members of the staff?
MR. CARNEY: What I knew at the time is, again, what I’ve just said today, is that the White House Counsel, Kathy Ruemmler, was notified in the week of April 22nd. I did find out that that specifically was April 24th, and that she notified other members of senior staff.
Q You’re talking about last week?
MR. CARNEY: I can't remember specifically. But the point is, is that --
Q Why didn’t you tell us?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not sure that I knew it at that time. But the point is Kathy Ruemmler is the point of contact here. She made the decision or the judgment that it was not necessary or appropriate to inform the President of this, and that didn't happen. And most importantly, no action was taken by anyone in this building to intervene -- because the focus here is on, well, if you know that, then what?
Q Right, but --
Q Did she tell staff they couldn’t tell the President?
MR. CARNEY: No, she didn't tell -- it was her judgment that it was not necessary to.
Q But she didn’t tell the staff they couldn’t do it? I’m sorry, Alexis. I’m confused by --
MR. CARNEY: This was a handful of staff, not the entire staff.
Q My question to you is, were you walled off from a fuller picture of what people knew and when they knew it last week as compared to today?
MR. CARNEY: No, no.
Q So then it was your choice, you chose --
MR. CARNEY: I’m just saying that we’re obviously dealing with a lot of information here. Last week we were focused intently on Benghazi and other matters, as well as this one.
Q But you only gave us a version? I’m just clarifying.
MR. CARNEY: I’m telling you that I have -- because of the confusion which has appeared and in the questions that have been asked, I gathered this information for you to provide you the kind of detail that I think you're interested in. So --
Q But going forward, is that going to be your practice?
MR. CARNEY: Alexis, let me get to some other people.
Q Two questions -- on IRS and on the AP story and James Rosen story. What rises to the level of the President’s attention? What merits the President’s attention on items around here, since the IRS issue did not make that mark?
MR. CARNEY: April, since you asked that at least in the beginning in reference to ongoing criminal investigations, the President does not intervene in ongoing congressional investigations. Obviously he closely follows the media. He understands a lot about a lot of issues and follows them closely. But again, last week there was this sort of insistence that -- the suggestion that the President should have been notified and done something about an ongoing criminal investigation. And I would suggest to you that that would truly be a story.
Q Jay, that's not what I’m asking. What I’m asking -- what merits the President’s attention around here? That's what I’m asking.
MR. CARNEY: I’m not even sure how to answer that question. The President is attentive to scores of issues every day. He is focused on his agenda that is designed to protect and grow the middle class, to help our economy grow and create jobs. He is focused very intently on steps that need to be taken to ensure that our national security interests are protected. Very specifically, in reaction to another matter, he wants to see congressional action to upgrade and fully fund security for our embassies and diplomatic facilities around the world. These are the kinds of issues that he’s focused on.
In this matter, as I think I’ve said numerous times, it was not appropriate for him to engage in a criminal investigation or engage in an ongoing inspector’s independent audit of the IRS.
Q All right, now on the other issue, on the James Rosen/AP story -- what makes this country at this moment different from any other country that the President has gone to that monitors the press, and when he goes there saying he’s calling for press freedoms? What makes us different now than those countries?
MR. CARNEY: We have the First Amendment. We have a great tradition of press freedom here. The President supports that tradition, and he is a defender of the rights contained within the First Amendment. He is a defender of the right of the press to pursue investigative journalism. He is also, as I’ve said, as President and as a citizen, insistent upon the need to make sure that classified leaks that can endanger our national security and endanger the lives of American men and women overseas be taken seriously. And that is a balance that he seeks, and it is a balance reflected in the legislation that he has supported and supports today.
Q Do you agree that the process that he now supports is now hampered and people are not handling reporting and investigative journalism the way they used to prior to a couple of weeks ago?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don't know that to the case.
Q Thank you, Jay.
MR. CARNEY: Christi.
Q Thank you, Jay. I just want to make sure I’m clear on a couple of things.
MR. CARNEY: Yes, I’ll get a couple from that back.
Q I just want to make sure I’m clear on two things. One is, did the White House Counsel see the draft or any portion of it?
MR. CARNEY: No.
Q And did the White House Counsel or any member of the senior staff who knew about this send back comment, advice, requests about the drafting of the final report?
MR. CARNEY: No.
Q Thank you.
Q Jay, the violence in Iraq has hit a new high. Prime Minister Maliki said today that he blames it partially on the sectarian war in Syria. Do you worry that the inaction in Syria might drag the region in a bigger conflict?
MR. CARNEY: Well, let me say that we strongly condemn the attacks perpetrated in Iraq over the past several days, and we are deeply concerned by the frequency and the nature of recent attacks including bombings today, attacks on Iraqi security forces in Anbar over the weekend, and a series of attacks on both Sunni and Shia neighborhoods and mosques. The targeting of innocent people in an effort to sow instability and division is reprehensible. Our condolences go out to the victims of these attacks and to their families.
Over the weekend, U.S. officials in Baghdad and Washington were in contact with a wide range of senior Iraqi leaders to urge calm, and help resolve ongoing political and sectarian tensions. These talks have focused on specific steps to avoid further violence and resolve key issues peacefully through dialogue and the political process. The U.S. remains committed to supporting Iraq’s democratic system and urges Iraq’s leaders to continue working toward a peaceful resolution of tensions through dialogue.
In answer to your question, we remain deeply concerned about the rise of violent extremism and how it further endangers the future both of Syria and its neighbors. And we call on those inside Syria and fleeing from Syria to refrain from sectarian retributions. Sectarian reprisals play directly into the regime’s hands and do not move closer to the inclusive post-Assad future that the Syrian people deserve.
Q How do you respond to the international community when they say that the lack of action in Syria is more costly than the actual action?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think both of these issues are very serious. And I think that the United States, as the largest provider of humanitarian aide and the largest provider of nonlethal assistance to the Syrian opposition, has acted and will continue to act in support of a transition in Syria to a post-Bashar al-Assad future. And we are working with our partners and allies and we are working with the Syria opposition daily to help bring that about, and are constantly reviewing the options we have available to us to help bring that about.
Q Myanmar, Myanmar.
MR. CARNEY: Myanmar, in the back, yes. All the way back. Myanmar?
MR. CARNEY: Thanks -- because we do have an important state visit today.
Q Two questions on Myanmar. As you just mentioned, you just called Burma Myanmar. And also in a statement the day released by the White House called Burma as Myanmar. What kind of signal are you trying to send out?
MR. CARNEY: Well, let me address that. The United States government over time has begun to allow limited use of the name Myanmar as a diplomatic courtesy. Burma has undertaken a number of positive reforms, including releasing over 850 political prisoners, easing media restriction, permitting freedom of speech, assembly and movement. We have responded by expanding our engagement with the government, easing a number of sanctions, and as a courtesy in appropriate settings, more frequently using the name Myanmar.
While we are not changing our policy to officially adopt Myanmar, we believe that showing respect for a government that is pursuing an ambitious reform program and a government that is pursing that agenda is an important signal of support for its efforts and our desire to help the transformation succeed. But our policy remains that Burma is the name of the country.
Q Jay, also many believe that the expansion of the U.S. influence in Myanmar is at the expense of China. What kind of role the President is expecting Myanmar to play in his policy of rebalance to Asia?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think that we are engaging with Myanmar in response to the meaningful steps in the right direction that has been taken in that country. But we also recognize that reforms there are fragile and there are many additional steps that need to be taken to truly transition to democracy, including protecting the rights of all of the people of Burma including ethnic minorities, and ensuring that the military is subordinate to civilian oversight.
We are obviously very much engaged in Asia, and we have talked about the rebalancing and the pivot toward Asia that is very much a focus of the President’s foreign policy. But engagement with Burma has to do with the specific actions taken and the meaningful steps taken in the right direction by the Burmese government.
Thank you all very much.
3:18 P.M. EDT