The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 5/21/2013
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:08 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for being here. Before I take your questions I just wanted to say a couple of things.
As you heard from the President, his thoughts and prayers are with the people of Oklahoma as they continue to respond and recover from devastating tornadoes and severe weather. Last night the President approved a major disaster declaration for Oklahoma, making federal funding available to support affected individuals, as well as additional federal assistance to support immediate response and recovery efforts.
Since yesterday afternoon, the President has spoke with Governor Fallin, Representative Tom Cole, and the Mayor of Moore, Oklahoma, Glenn Lewis. Earlier today, the President received a briefing in the Oval Office from his team on the latest response efforts underway. Participants included Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, Lisa Monaco; Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano; Chief of Staff Denis McDonough; Deputy Chief of Staff Alyssa Mastromonaco; and FEMA Deputy Administrator Richard Serino. The President will continue to receive updates from his team as well as from officials in the region.
At the President’s direction, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate is now on the ground in Oklahoma to make sure that federal resources are available and fully supporting the efforts of the Governor’s team. Additionally, tomorrow Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano will travel to Oklahoma to meet with state and local officials and ensure that first responders are receiving the assistance they need in ongoing response and recovery efforts to the severe weather that has affected the region.
FEMA has been providing resources since Sunday to support Oklahoma as they respond to deadly storms. As of this morning, more than 150 FEMA personnel were on the ground to assist in the response, with more on the way. Briefly, I'll say this includes a national incident management assistance team and two regional IMATs are deployed to the State Emergency Operations Center in Oklahoma City to coordinate with state and local officials in support of recovery operations. Three national urban search and rescue teams, one from Texas, one from Nebraska, and one from Tennessee, and an additional incident support team -- together they have all been deployed to support the immediate response efforts.
Two mobile emergency response support teams -- MERS -- are in Oklahoma to provide self-sustaining telecommunications, logistics, and operations support elements to assist in the immediate response needs, and additional teams are being deployed. Finally, three disaster survivor assistance teams are scheduled to arrive later today into communities to help address immediate and emerging needs of disaster survivors, including onsite registration, applicant status checks, on-the-spot needs assessments, and access to partners offering survivor services.
With that, I'll go to your questions. Julie.
Q Thank you. I had two quick questions about Oklahoma. I know that it's still early -- the tornadoes just happened yesterday -- but are there any plans for the President to travel to Oklahoma in the coming days?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have an announcement to make. And as you know, Julie, in situations like this, we always make decisions in the first instance based on the President's insistence that his travel does not interfere with recovery efforts, does not drain resources from those efforts. So those are the kinds of considerations that go into decisions like that, and at this time I don’t have an announcement of travel.
Q Do you also know yet whether you're going to have to ask Congress for more money for Oklahoma, or whether FEMA has enough funds?
MR. CARNEY: What I can tell you at this stage is that the President has made clear that we will make sure that Oklahoma has the resources that it needs, including the resources we have already announced. And generally speaking, we are pleased that Congress has allowed us to do what is needed in situations like this. In this specific case, obviously in this short time period since the major tornado passed through, we're still in the process of assessing those needs.
Q If you were to need to ask Congress for additional funds, would you want that funding to be offset?
MR. CARNEY: I think what I would say about this is that in a situation like this, we have been pleased to work with Congress and we've been pleased by the fact that Congress has allowed us to do what is needed in situations like this, and that means being able to respond to the state's needs. Right now, FEMA has sufficient resources to do that. Further assessments will obviously be forthcoming.
Q Okay. And I just had one on the IRS. A Treasury official said last night that the Treasury Department told the White House twice about possible plans that the IRS had to make the targeting of conservative political groups public but didn’t tell the White House in the third and final instance. It almost seems too convenient that the White House knew about two of these possible plans but not the third and final plan. Do you feel like the White House should have been told by Treasury?
MR. CARNEY: I mean, I can simply tell you the facts, which are as described, and that is that in the communications I mentioned yesterday between Treasury officials and the Counsel's office as well as the Chief of Staff's office, and over here, the Chief of Staff's office and the Council's office, that there were discussions about the timing of the release of this information and the findings of the report.
The only two instances that those discussions encompassed were the discussion about the possibility of a speech by, I believe, Ms. Lerner -- which, as I understand, did not happen -- and then the possibility that the acting commissioner would get a question in testimony about these issues and whether or not he would -- what he would say in response to that, again, with regard to the ongoing IG audit. But we were not aware of what ultimately led to the first reporting on this on May 10th.
Q After the speech by Lerner didn’t happen and after Miller did not get the questions in testimony, did the White House ask Treasury what the plan then was for the IRS to announce this publicly?
MR. CARNEY: Again, the general discussions as described had to do with the timing of the release of the information and the findings of the actual audit. Our focus was I think, again, reflected in what I've said about this, on the expectation that when the report was finally completed and published, that that would be the appropriate time to respond to it and to direct any action in response to it.
Because, again, it's important to note that while there were discussions of draft findings and general conclusions, these kinds of things, history tells us, tend to change as they are finalized. And it was very important in our view, in keeping with what I said yesterday is the cardinal rule around here that we not take any action that could even be seen to create the appearance of intervening in an ongoing investigation like this -- in this case, an independent Inspector General audit. And so, of course, we did not.
Q Who did Treasury talk to here at the White House?
MR. CARNEY: I think that’s been reported. It was Mark Childress, Deputy Chief of Staff.
Q And he did not -- what did he do with the information?
MR. CARNEY: Again, this was part of just trying to find out when and under what circumstances this information would be released, made public, and what those findings would be. Again, we did not know until the actual report was published.
Q And the President was not made aware of this notification either?
MR. CARNEY: Absolutely, he was not. And I think we made that clear. Some people have suggested that was unwise; I think people in the know and people who understand why it’s important to maintain distance from these kinds of things for a White House understand that that was the right call in our view and, again, many outsiders have said that as well.
The point being that, at least in this case, there was an ongoing, still not complete IRS audit -- IG audit of the IRS. And there was nothing the President could or should do until that process was completed. And upon the release of that information, the release of the final report, the President moved very quickly to make clear his feeling that the conduct portrayed within it was outrageous and inappropriate and wrong, and that action needed to be taken immediately to begin to correct the problem. And that included, obviously, working with Secretary of the Treasury Lew to ask for and accept the resignation of the acting commissioner; to appoint a new action IRS commissioner, who then has instituted a 30-day, top-down review to find out more about who was responsible for the unacceptable behavior, to hold them accountable and to make sure that there are processes in place that prevent this from happening again.
Q Can I ask you briefly about his speech on Thursday, Jay?
MR. CARNEY: Sure.
Q How specific will he be in offering proposals to close Guantanamo Bay? And what will he say about drones? You say there will be a legal framework -- what exactly will that entail?
MR. CARNEY: Well, let me speak broadly and then I’ll go to the specific questions. As you know, in his State of the Union address in February, the President pledged to “continue to engage Congress to ensure not only that our targeting, detention, and prosecution of terrorists remains consistent with our laws and system of checks and balances, but that our efforts are even more transparent to the American people and to the world.”
In line with that pledge, on May 23rd, the President will give a speech at the National Defense University on the administration’s counterterrorism policy. In his speech, the President will discuss our broad CT policy, including military, diplomatic, intelligence, and legal efforts. He will review the state of the threats that we face, particularly as al Qaeda core has weakened but new dangers have emerged. He will discuss the policy and legal framework under which we take action against terrorist threats, including the use of drones. He will review our detention policy and efforts to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. And he will frame the future of our efforts against al Qaeda, its affiliates and its adherents.
I’m not going to get on the specifics of what he will say about Gitmo. I’m not going to get ahead of the President except to say that he is determined to see the facility closed and that he will address that subject in his speech.
Beyond what I just said about drones, I’m not going to get ahead of the President, but he will discuss that subject in the speech. It is, as he pledged in his State of the Union address, a subject that he believes deserves focus and attention. It is one around which he believes there have been and continue to be legitimate questions asked. He is very concerned about the need to put an architecture in place that governs counterterrorism policy for now and into the future. And that is what he’ll be discussing on Thursday.
Q Thanks. On the hurricane -- the tornado -- excuse me -- first of all, does the President have concerns about, given the devastation to the structures there, concerns about the stability of the building codes there, the stability of the structures, and does the building code need to be looked into?
MR. CARNEY: I don't know that at this point the President has focused on those questions. I think right now the President’s focus is on ensuring that we here in Washington through FEMA are doing everything we can to provide the necessary assistance to Oklahoma and to the residents who have been affected by the terribly severe weather and the tornadoes.
I’m sure when something like this happens, those kinds of questions are, understandably, asked and I believe will be looked at. Again, I’m just assuming this based on past instances of storms. But I haven’t heard the President discuss those issues in the immediate response to the weather in Oklahoma.
Q Does he think they should rebuild in this area?
MR. CARNEY: I think you heard the President pledge that we'll provide assistance to Oklahoma to recover from these efforts. And I would point you to the statements of Oklahoma officials about how they see the future in the recovery from this storm.
Q On the spending, I know you don't need more FEMA money at this moment. But already today, some on the Hill have said that any spending needs to be offset, but how we would offset it is not an appropriate question. The quote is “it's insensitive to even talk about it now.” So what would the President say, what do you say to politicians who are already insisting that additional spending for tornado victims needs to be paid for, but it's insensitive to talk about how it would be paid for?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would simply say that the President has made clear that we will make sure that Oklahoma has the resources that it needs, including the resources we have already announced. And we are pleased that Congress has allowed us to do what is needed in the past in situations like this -- in other words, to provide resources that are needed when they're needed.
I think it's too early to assess what kinds of needs there will be as Oklahoma moves from the immediate recovery from the storm to assessing the longer-term damage. Right now, as you mentioned, we believe that FEMA has the resources sufficient to deal with this. But we will, obviously, be making regular assessments with all the team members we have on the ground, working with state officials.
Q One clarification on the IRS and then I'm done. Yesterday, you made clear that Denis McDonough and others were informed by Kathy Ruemmler. Acknowledging the view that there is no action that the White House could or would have taken, putting that aside, just asking you about how forthcoming the White House is being about this issue -- when this information was not revealed last week and throughout the week, was that because you didn't know or because you didn't want to say?
MR. CARNEY: No. Here's the thing. I answered the questions that were asked of me. The point was -- I was asked when did the White House know. At that point, Kathy Ruemmler was the point of contact and she learned the week of April 22nd. I did find out that prior to that, someone in her office was -- part of a list of items that were coming forward related to IG matters, that this was one of the line items on it provided to someone in her office. But Kathy Ruemmler became aware of it April 24th.
And I would just say that what I provided yesterday was in response to some of the -- in the rapid development of information about this story and the stories that were being written, there was some confusion about that timeline and I provided more details about it.
I would also say it is still just a few days since the report was released, and we have been extremely transparent in providing information. The information I provided yesterday, just a few days after this report was released, I think reflects an effort here to provide information. And I think, again, the fundamental issue here is that in, I believe, June of 2012, the IG, in response to requests from Chairman Issa, began an audit as I understand it -- obviously Chairman Issa was aware of that -- in October or sometime in the fall of 2012. The fact of this audit was publicly announced on a website. And the conduct was finished, as we understand it, based on the IG's report in May of 2012.
And everything that we have told you reinforces the fundamental facts here that we follow the cardinal rule: We do not interfere in -- this is an important fact. It is in many ways, with regards to the White House, it's the most important fact -- that we do not interfere with or intervene in criminal investigations or independent Inspector General audits. And that is the case here.
Q But as to the question why this didn’t come out last week, it's because we didn’t ask?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I gave you the information in response to the questions, and we have provided an enormous amount of information about the communications that we've had -- who learned what about this and when, the fact that the President was not informed, how he reacted when he was informed -- and have walked you through that process. And again, I think any comparison of this, the speed with which we provided that information to the general practice, I think shows a determination to get you information very quickly.
Q Jay, I'm a little confused on the audit question. Just quickly -- so if there's an Inspector General audit going on on a given action, the White House can't take any action to deal with it?
MR. CARNEY: To intervene in an independent Inspector General's audit?
Q No, to take action about the underlying --
MR. CARNEY: I would love to see the ABC story on that. (Laughter.)
Q -- well, no, no, to intervene on the underlying activity, is what I'm asking.
MR. CARNEY: But we weren't aware of an underlying activity. There were accusations. Congressman Issa asked for the Inspector General to look into it, as I understand it -- and I think he's spoken to this. He has said that it would have been unwise to comment on that as it was ongoing, from his perspective, until the report was concluded. And the fact that there was an audit ongoing we know now was publicly announced by the IG on a website that fall.
Once there is an independent investigation, if you will -- in this case, termed an audit --
Q Your hands are tied, you can't do anything.
MR. CARNEY: Well, we're certainly not going to intervene in an independent investigation. And the IRS is a unique agency, a component of the Treasury Department but it is properly insulated from political interference because it is paramount for the confidence of the American people in the way that the tax laws are applied that that insulation exists. And we interact -- or don’t interact for that reason -- with the IRS. And I think that, again, the information I provided yesterday reflects that absolutely due caution.
Q Okay. Now, on Lois Lerner -- so if my understanding is correct, you're saying there were some preliminary discussions with the White House about the IRS issuing an apology through a Lois Lerner speech?
MR. CARNEY: As I said yesterday and as has been reported today, there were discussions between the Treasury Chief of Staff's office and office of General Counsel and the White House Counsel's office and Chief of Staff's office about the timing of this information release and the findings themselves. It was all about the -- the whole point of a heads-up, as I understand it in a case like this, is that when a matter is coming to a conclusion, as the IG audit was, that when a matter like that is likely to get congressional or public attention that a heads-up is given.
And so we were simply -- and the conversations were just about finding out when that information was going to be released and what it was going to say -- because, I think as I made clear yesterday, until we had the report we did not know the final conclusions of the Inspector General.
Q So if the message got to the White House that, well, the plan is that we’re going to plant a question at an ABA conference --
MR. CARNEY: Well, it’s a nice hypothetical but that didn’t happen.
Q No, but if that happened, would you have said no? Would you have objected to that kind of a tactic?
MR. CARNEY: I think every case we have deferred I believe -- well, not we -- the only conversations here were between members of the White House staff and Treasury staff. But our approach has always been to be hands off and to defer. But I would refer you --
Q So if someone --
MR. CARNEY: Again, you’re going to ask me speculative questions about things that didn’t happen -- I think there are probably people here who have questions about things that --
Q Well, I'm just asking, so you would have said, okay, go ahead and do whatever you guys want, if you guys want to plant a question, that’s okay?
MR. CARNEY: Again, we didn’t have that information.
Q It seems like a strange way to release information.
MR. CARNEY: I think you should ask others who knew about it whether they objected.
Q No, no, would you object to that?
MR. CARNEY: Again, our interest was always in waiting for the IG report to be completed before we acted on it or commented on it. And I think that’s the way the American people would expect a White House and a President to handle a situation like this.
Q I just find it odd that you have no objection to the idea of releasing a sort of planted question.
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, since we didn’t know about it, I think you should ask those who did.
Q Separate from that, you did know that Lois Lerner intended to apologize for this conduct, correct?
MR. CARNEY: Well, some folks here had that conversation that that was possible, based on what the Treasury Department --
Q So it wasn’t just about a question of conduct; it was about the proper way to apologize for conduct that needed to be apologized for.
MR. CARNEY: Our interest was in finding out --
Q The White House understood that there would be something worth apologizing for.
MR. CARNEY: Our interest was in finding out the timing of the release of the information. We did not have the final results. We did know --
Q You knew enough that there was something to apologize for -- is that correct?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think I said yesterday that we knew that Kathy Ruemmler was notified of the topline assessment that there had been improper targeting of conservative groups using the names that I described yesterday. But beyond that, we didn’t have any more specifics. And we did not -- and it was very clear to us that there was not a final report, but that these were the draft conclusions.
Q Not a final report, but it was bad.
MR. CARNEY: Well, based on what we knew, there were the conclusions that I said. But, again, our interest was only in finding out when the information would be released and when the IG report would be finished.
Q And to the question that some people have raised that this seemed like a concerted effort to insulate the President from this bad news, you would say what?
MR. CARNEY: No, I would say that it is the appropriate approach by Counsel, in this case, to dealing with incomplete information about an ongoing audit by an independent Inspector General, and that if the opposite had happened in this or any other White House, there would be questions about -- if a President were informed of what a White House had learned about a still ongoing independent investigation, there would be questions about what the President might have done with that information.
In this case, it was the judgment of Counsel -- and I think you’ve seen from outside people writing about this and talking about this who have experience in these matters, that this was the right judgment -- that it was not appropriate in this matter to alert the President about this until the report itself was complete. And the fact is the President found out about it through news reports because the news of this emerged prior to the completion of the report, prior to the publication of the report.
Q On Sunday, Dan Pfeiffer said that one thing Republicans do when they lack an agenda is try -- I’m quoting him directly -- “try to drag Washington into a swamp of partisan fishing expeditions, trumped-up hearings and false allegations.” Can you describe what he’s talking about?
MR. CARNEY: I think we have a history here already for the past several years of attempts by Republicans to politicize matters --
Q Is there anything that's -- an issue now fall into that category in your opinion -- in the White House’s opinion?
MR. CARNEY: On which issue?
Q I’m asking you. Do you have anything that's happening now, swirling around, that falls into any of these categories?
MR. CARNEY: I would say -- again, Republican obsession with the talking points surrounding Benghazi --
Q Would fall into that category.
MR. CARNEY: -- is provably and demonstrably political and has focused on talking points instead of the tragedy that happened in Benghazi, the need to find those responsible for the deaths of four Americans and hold them to justice, and the need to take -
Q Does the IRS fall into that category?
MR. CARNEY: -- and the need to take action to ensure that what happened in Benghazi doesn't happen again -- which is why you heard the President call on Congress to take action to provide the funds necessary to enhance our security around our embassies around the world.
Q Does the IRS fall into that category?
MR. CARNEY: On this, I think you have seen -- I’m not going to catalogue some of the more outlandish statements that we’ve seen from some Republicans on this matter, on the IRS, but it is absolutely the case that there have been Republicans who have tried to politicize this right away and tried to turn it into a partisan issue.
But the President, from the moment he found out what the results of this inquiry were, was absolutely clear about how outraged he was by the conduct, how absolutely unacceptable the conduct was, and his insistence that people be held accountable for that conduct. And I think that that was reflected in what Dan Pfeiffer said on Sunday and what the President has said on the times that he’s spoken about this.
Q Does congressional curiosity about the Department of Justice dealing with the AP situation fall into that category?
MR. CARNEY: Not that I’ve seen yet. I think that these are matters in terms of specific investigations that, appropriately, we can't comment on. But that doesn't mean that there aren’t legitimate questions that are asked by Congress or other parties on matters like this.
Q Do questions raised about HHS Secretary Sebelius and her efforts to raise funds through the private sector for Enroll Now fall into that category?
MR. CARNEY: We can go down the list of -- we could say what about the President’s birth certificate? Was that legitimate --
Q I’m not asking about that. I’m not asking about that. I’m just asking -- this is the last thing --
MR. CARNEY: Okay. I am sure that as is the case with --
Q Is that a legitimate form of inquiry?
MR. CARNEY: I can answer your question about that matter and the precedent for what Secretary Sebelius has done and is doing, and there is precedent for it, including in the previous administration. And so, yes, I would say that when it comes to the Affordable Care Act, in keeping with an institution in the House of Representatives with its leadership that has now voted 39 times to repeal something that the Speaker of the House himself said after last election was law, and that he should -- they were rethinking their strategy on this, demonstrates a political and partisan approach to some of these issues that isn’t helpful when it comes to what the American people really want us to be doing here, which is addressing their concerns -- addressing their focus on the economy and the need for it to continue to grow; addressing their sense that the middle class still needs Washington to help it grow and thrive, and for Washington to take action to ensure that the economy is creating the kinds of jobs in the future that will support a middle-class family.
That's the President’s focus. And I think that there have been repeated instances, and I think many of you have written and reported on them, where there has been an attempt to take an issue and turn it into a political or partisan football.
Q And the precedent you were going to cite?
MR. CARNEY: I’m sorry?
Q Of the precedents you were going to cite for Secretary Sebelius Enroll Now?
MR. CARNEY: Let’s see if I have that here. I believe when the Medicare Part D issue was passed in the previous administration that there was similar fundraising done, or similar efforts to engage private and nonprofit institutions into the effort to publicize the enrollment of people into the new program that was started under the previous administration -- and unpaid for we can always remember.
What I can say is that we are aggressively engaging in a wide range of stakeholder conversations about the President’s health care law, as was done, as I mentioned, in previous administrations implementing Medicare Part D and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
The White House and HHS officials routinely and appropriately engage with outside groups on the implementation of the health care law, including educating these groups about what we are doing and finding out about the work they are doing.
Meanwhile, as I mentioned, Republicans are trying to fight old political battles that have been decided -- a law that was passed by Congress and signed into law by the President, upheld by the Supreme Court, much discussed and debated in a presidential election that President Obama won. And we are about the business of implementing health care reform so that it can continue to provide benefits to millions of Americans.
Q But you’re bedeviled by the fact that there’s not sufficient funding for the Enroll Now component. Isn’t this why you’re going outside of the system?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think as you know, the Public Health Service Act gives the Secretary -- well, maybe you don't know so I’ll tell you. The Public Health Service Act gives the Secretary the authority to encourage support for educational efforts related to health care. Specifically, it allows her to “support by grant or contract and to encourage others to support private, nonprofit entities working in health information and health promotion, preventive health services, and education in the appropriate use of health care.”
And we, of course, support the Secretary exercising her authority under the law, just, as I mentioned, previous Secretaries have.
Q Thanks, Jay. When the President learned about the findings in the IRS audit in the newspaper, did he ask senior advisors why he was learning about this from the newspaper?
MR. CARNEY: No, I don't believe he did. I wasn’t present when he learned about it, but I know that he was not happy with the apparent conduct -- because, again, this was incomplete information; the IG report had not been finalized or released. But I think that the tenor of the President’s public comments about it both in his statement Tuesday night and his public comments the next day reflect his feelings upon learning about the apparent conduct by IRS officials in Cincinnati.
Q Just a quick follow-on. Did he ever ask -- not necessarily in a critical vein, but just to sort of get a sense of how the White House is operating -- why he wasn’t informed of that earlier? Or was that self-apparent?
MR. CARNEY: I was asked yesterday about this. The President believes and has faith -- believes that the Counsel’s decision was the right one and has faith in her judgment on these issues. This is the kind of thing that was an ongoing -- again, let’s be clear. Let’s step back and look at what we’re talking about here. This was an uncompleted, ongoing, independent Inspector General’s audit of activity by IRS personnel that turned out to be wholly inappropriate and wrong. It would have been wrong for him to do anything about it while the audit was still underway. It would have at the very least created the appearance of intervening in an ongoing investigation or audit. And the cardinal rule here, as it should be, is that you do not intervene in ongoing criminal investigations or ongoing independent Inspector General audits.
Q I understand your point. Mine is more -- that was so obvious to him that he didn't need to ask anyone about why he wasn’t informed --
MR. CARNEY: Again, I wasn’t privy to every conversation that he had about this, but I know that he has faith in his Counsel’s judgment, which I think has been testified to by numerous people who actually know what they're talking about in this area.
And this is not about public relations. Obviously when a story like this breaks, we had to make the decision not to react to it until we had the actual facts, as opposed to reacting to partial information that appeared in the press. And that can be judged as inconvenient from a communications point of view, but it’s absolutely the right thing to do from a substance and policy point of view.
MR. CARNEY: Yes, sir.
Q Thank you. Last week, when the Turkish Prime Minister was here, President Obama said that they both agreed that Assad needs to go. He needs to transfer power to transitional body, and that is the only way that they are going to resolve this crisis. Does it mean that the military option now is off of table, or “all options on the table” rule is still valid?
MR. CARNEY: All options remain on the table as they have been. Regardless of the options that the President is reviewing and the options that he implements, it is absolutely our position that the only outcome that is right for the Syria people is the transition in Syria from the Assad era to a post-Assad era. And it has long been our position that the best way to accomplish that is through a political transition.
That is why we have, with the Russians, reinvigorated the Geneva framework or approach that we talked about -- the Geneva Communiqué -- that envisions that political transition. And we have made clear that in our view, the Syrian people have made clear that the future cannot include Bashar al-Assad because he has the blood of his own people on his hands and he has proven himself to be a terrible tyrant and a murderer of his own people.
Q So one detail -- the U.S. administration is okay with negotiating with the Assad regime, but not --
MR. CARNEY: I think we have made clear that it is up to the Syrian opposition to decide in that transition with whom they will have those conversations, which members of the present government or the Assad government they would have those discussions. They have made clear that they do not view Assad as having a role in that process. We have made clear that we do not believe that Assad has any place in Syria's future. But obviously, the decisions about the process itself and who participates in it would have to be agreed to by the Syrian opposition.
Q Jay, can we just go back to the IRS here real quick? Because there have been a few questions --
MR. CARNEY: Hans, I'll get to you. I'll get to you.
MR. CARNEY: There are important matters around the world -- Syria is one of them. Go ahead.
Q Jay, are you welcoming Iran for the next Geneva Two meetings? What's your position on that?
MR. CARNEY: I'll have to get back to you. I don’t have an answer to that question.
Q Okay. So can I just clarify on the Childress-Patterson meeting, was that separate and distinct from the --
MR. CARNEY: Well, there were -- it was communication.
Q Okay, excuse me. Was the Patterson-Childress communication different than what Ruemmler was -- did that happen in a different forum than when Ruemmler was informed on the 24th?
MR. CARNEY: Different forum?
Q Was Ruemmler part of that conversation?
MR. CARNEY: As I said yesterday, when the White House Counsel, Kathy Ruemmler, was informed of this she informed some members of senior staff, including the Chief of Staff. Mark Childress, Deputy Chief of Staff, was among those who was informed.
Q So the Childress --
MR. CARNEY: And it was after that that he had the communication --
Q Okay, so the Childress-Patterson kind of communication happens after April 24th?
MR. CARNEY: I'm not sure if it happened the same day, but it was after he was informed by Kathy Ruemmler about this issue.
Q Okay. And then who initiated that conversation?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t know.
Q You don’t know whether it came from the White House to the Treasury?
MR. CARNEY: As I said yesterday, there were discussions between Office of the General Counsel and Chief of Staff office in Treasury, on the one hand, and Counsel's and Chief of Staff's office on the other about the issue of timing and the issue of the findings themselves. And that is the context within which the communication between Mr. Childress and Mr. Patterson took place.
Q When Ruemmler made the announcement internally, did she do that through email? Did she do it at a staff meeting? When and how was that done? And was it done on the 24th or the 23rd?
MR. CARNEY: Again -- I think two things -- one, it was not an announcement. It was she informed some members of the senior staff.
Q Which members?
MR. CARNEY: I think I've just said -- Denis McDonough, Mark Childress, some other members of senior staff.
Q And only those two knew?
MR. CARNEY: No, I didn't say that. But here's the point. Some members of senior staff were informed by Kathy Ruemmler about the fact that --
Q And how were they informed?
MR. CARNEY: I don't know that she -- she may have had conversations, but there was certainly an email perhaps. But the point --
Q Perhaps or for certain?
MR. CARNEY: Hans, can I ask what is it that you're trying --
Q I'm trying to figure out how people in this building knew, what they knew, and when they knew it.
MR. CARNEY: Let's step back. Here's what they knew.
Q -- for not asking precise questions. Here I am asking precise questions and you're acting like I'm petulant.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I'm just trying to figure out what it is -- we've provided you -- I can't believe anybody would ever call you petulant. (Laughter.)
Q Or you forthcoming.
MR. CARNEY: Well, we've provided you with a significant amount of information about how we found out, who found out, conversations that took place. And the fundamental fact is that every action we took was mindful of the need to allow the Inspector General to continue and finalize and complete his audit. We did not in any way intervene, because we follow the cardinal rule here. And our only effort here was to find out information about when this information would be made public and what it would be, because, again, we don't intervene in internal Inspector General investigations. I think I've given you a lot of --
Q Do you know how Ruemmler informed members?
MR. CARNEY: I don't have more information to give you here. The fact is that she found out; she alerted some other members of senior staff; there were conversations with Treasury involving some members of senior staff. The President was not informed. The whole nature of the conversation was simply about the fact that this Inspector General was completing an audit that would likely find, as I said yesterday, that IRS line personnel had improperly targeted conservative groups. And our interest was simply in finding out when the report would be concluded and when that information would be made public.
Q At the risk of being petulant, on April 24th, when Ms. Ruemmler informed some White House staff -- I realize you might not want to name everyone -- did she inform you? Were you one of the people?
MR. CARNEY: I was not informed.
Q Are you disappointed in that? Since this -- well, not just from your standpoint here, but in terms of you're the press secretary and this was going to have to be conveyed to the public at some point, and now the White House Counsel has an inkling officially that there's a report that maybe a bunch of conservative groups were targeted and it might create a political firestorm, shouldn't the press secretary have been brought in?
MR. CARNEY: I think I found out -- or would have found out the way that -- let's back up. The Inspector General was completing a report. If that report contained the information that was indicated, it would be something that we would want to respond to. And as you saw, the President responded very firmly to it.
I was perfectly capable of assisting in that response upon learning the information. Again, the suggestion that I should have known or that the President should have known earlier so that I could have said something or done something, again, suggests all the --
Q But you need to be prepared to respond.
MR. CARNEY: It suggests that -- all these questions suggest that somehow the President should have done something in the midst of an independent --
Q I didn’t suggest that.
MR. CARNEY: Or I. What if I come out and started --
Q Because you’re the -- you have to cover this podium and deal with these questions for days.
MR. CARNEY: And I think that we -- the response that we had upon the release of that report was very clear. The President spoke firmly about how outraged he was by the behavior. He made clear that we would hold -- that he expected people to be held accountable, and that changes ought to be made.
Q So what day did you learn?
MR. CARNEY: The same day the President did.
Q From news reports?
MR. CARNEY: Correct.
Q So no one in this building told you?
MR. CARNEY: That’s correct.
Q Okay. And then real quick on the timeline. Yesterday the timeline changed a little bit, maybe just by a few days, but it did change from the week of April 22nd, Ms. Ruemmler being notified. You said yesterday it was actually a broad heads-up, not detailed, but a broad heads-up on April 16th. Are you now confident from that podium that April 16th is the actual day that anyone in this building was notified that this report was being put together? Or might this change again? Are you saying now this is it?
MR. CARNEY: I am confident that this is when the first notification came as part of a series of items that were being included in a general heads-up about pending matters to a member of the White House Counsel’s office. And the White House Counsel herself was not made aware of this until April 24th. Again -- because I think it’s important -- because all of these questions about what we knew in April of 2013 about an ongoing independent Inspector General inquiry has no bearing on the conduct itself, which concluded in May of 2012 --
Q Unless someone knew before that. That’s part of my question. Are we certain April 16th is it, or did someone know in 2012 in this building?
MR. CARNEY: Not in this building. And I think it’s been made clear that, like Congressman Issa and others, others at Treasury were aware that there was an Inspector General audit going on. It was publicly posted we’ve come to learn by the Inspector General in the fall of 2012 that this audit was being conducted.
But in terms of the fact that the IG was concluding his audit and that the findings were, at least preliminarily, that there had been this conduct, we learned about it first in that full form on April 24th, as I said yesterday, and prior to that as part of a number of items on April 16th.
Q And in terms of voracity, how do you know that it’s April 24th in terms of like has the White House Counsel done some formal review, gone through email, interviewed people, just to make sure that someone in this building did not --
MR. CARNEY: Again, Ed, I think it’s been looked at and we’ve provided you the information. And, again, I would just --it would be great for everybody to step back and ask themselves what is it that we're learning about the White House and what --
Q The voracity of when the White House knew something and tells the public that they learned of it is an important issue, you would agree?
MR. CARNEY: Absolutely. And we've been absolutely forthcoming about that and provided more specificity than I think has been the case in previous administrations on matters like this. And the fundamental fact here is that we did not intervene in an ongoing Inspector General audit of the IRS because we shouldn’t and it would be inappropriate to do so. We waited to respond and to take any action for the completion of that report.
It is also -- again, going to the tenor and focus of your questions -- it is important to note that the report itself and the Inspector General himself has said that they found no indication of outside influence or political motivation behind this. And regardless of the motivation, by the way, as the President has made clear, the activity was improper, inappropriate, and wrong.
Q Last thing. With the James Rosen case, yesterday you repeatedly said it's an ongoing criminal investigation so you can't comment. Overnight, various Justice Department officials have told Huffington Post, Washington Post, maybe others that they have no plans to press criminal charges against James Rosen. Is that your understanding? Is that what the White House --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I obviously would not know about or have comment on prosecutorial decisions in an ongoing criminal investigation.
But, look, I'm glad you asked me this because I wanted to follow up on our discussions yesterday, because I know this is an issue that everyone here cares deeply about and it's an issue I care deeply about. It's something I have talked to the President about in the past, and it's something that I talked to the President about yesterday after the briefing.
And while, again, he cannot and I cannot comment on the specifics of any ongoing criminal matter, I can tell you that in our conversation yesterday he reiterated just how important he believes it is that reporters, that all of you and your colleagues, are able to do your jobs in a free and open way. And as he has said, he believes there is an important balance to be found here, and he thinks the questions about how that balance is being struck are entirely legitimate and he welcomes the public discussions, again, about the broad question of the balance that needs to be struck.
Because there is no question that when classified information is leaked, that is a violation of the law. And it is a serious matter, as we have seen in some cases, and as Director Mueller and others have stated about some of the investigation -- matters under investigation. It is also vital to our democracy -- and the President believes this deeply -- that the press is allowed to pursue investigative journalism freely. He is a fierce defender of the First Amendment, of press freedom, and will continue to be.
And you asked, again, about a specific matter, and I can't comment on the specifics of any ongoing criminal matter. But if you're asking me whether the President believes that journalists should be prosecuted for doing their jobs, the answer is no.
Q Jay, during the Senate Finance Committee hearing on the IRS today, soon-to-be-former acting commissioner Steve Miller said that the IRS has, in his words, "clarity" on the person who initiated the practice of targeting conservative groups, but that he didn’t know the name, in his language, "off the top of his head." Will you tell us the name of the person?
MR. CARNEY: Again, we don’t have independent information about this. This is an independent Inspector General --
Q This is being done on Capitol Hill. This is not from the IG report; these are conversations happening today. So what does the White House --
MR. CARNEY: I understand that, but --
Q -- hey, this guy knows who it is, we want to know who it is.
MR. CARNEY: Well, we want accountability. That is why the President appointed a new acting commissioner and why he is undertaking the effort to conduct a 30-day top-down review to find out as much information as possible in addition to what we've learned in the IG report about what happened here and who's responsible for the inappropriate behavior, making sure that people are held accountable, and that we take steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
Again, the question suggests that we have some independent investigative apparatus here that would have insight into this. We don’t. There was an independent IG investigation into this. He reached his conclusions, including that there was this wholly inappropriate activity going on. And the President has spoken very clearly about his views on that.
Q But if you reached out to Jack Lew at Treasury and told him that we'd like this person to resign -- which he did -- isn't it possible that the White House could reach out and say, this guy who we've asked to resign has resigned, and he knows the person who's in charge of this, and without waiting for 30 more days --
MR. CARNEY: Well, Peter, I think you can be sure that one of the purposes of the 30-day review is to find out, with specificity, more detail about what happened and who is responsible, and to hold those people accountable, and also to make sure that there are procedures in place so that it doesn’t happen again. I'm not going to get into individuals as that 30-day review is being conducted. I can simply point you to the information that we all have, which is the IG report that was released last Wednesday.
Q I brought that up only because when Lois Lerner made her comment on the Friday before, we were saying the report is not done so we can’t conclude, even though she apologized and said this is in fact what happened. In this case, it’s another person saying this is in fact what happened. So I figured we might be --
MR. CARNEY: But the IG report has said this is in fact what happened. Getting more information beyond the IG report is part of what the 30-day top-down review was about. There’s obviously, as we’ve said, legitimate congressional oversight to be conducted here and I think also the Department of Justice has said it’s looking into this matter.
Q -- but then what?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not even sure what you’re -- I think that, appropriately, the White House is not doing an independent investigation of the IRS. That is happening in places where it should happen. And that includes the IRS itself, overseen by Treasury; it includes Congress; and it includes the Department of Justice.
Q Let me ask you just briefly on a different topic. I know that the CEO of Apple, Tim Cook, is testifying today and a Senate panel said that Apple is avoiding billions of dollars in U.S. taxes by shifting its profits to foreign affiliates. Obviously this doesn’t help in terms of the White House’s view on the way taxes and companies in the U.S. should help their own country in terms of paying taxes. What’s the White House’s position on Apple? Or on this situation?
MR. CARNEY: Thank you for the question. I can say that I can’t comment, for obvious reasons, on a specific company’s taxes. But the broader issue is one that is of concern to the President and one that he’s focused on, because in terms of the policy matters that it raises, the report by Senators Levin and McCain raises a set of broader issues around companies that ship their profits and their jobs offshore.
And it is our view that Senators Levin and McCain have done an important job in raising awareness of this issue and putting forward ideas to cut back on the abuses. As you know, the President has long argued that the tax code today is tilted against companies that want to create jobs in America while it rewards companies for shipping jobs and profits overseas.
As a result, he has long championed a set of proposals to ensure that American companies cannot use offshore profit shifting to avoid paying taxes, including a proposal for a minimum tax on foreign earnings that would provide a comprehensive solution to this problem.
We look forward to working with Senators McCain and Levin, and anyone else who will work with us to reform our tax code in a way that makes sure that everyone is paying their fair share and that our tax code is designed to reward job creation opportunities in the United States instead of tax avoidance and profit-shifting opportunities to low-tax countries around the world.
And as anyone knows who’s been covering the President from the beginning here, and certainly in the discussions we’ve had about tax policy in the last few years, this has been a major priority of his because he thinks it is inexplicable that our tax code would actually be written in a way that rewards companies for taking jobs and profits offshore, and thereby penalizes companies for doing what we want them to do, which is create jobs and opportunity here in the United States.
Q And very briefly, concluding on the tornadoes that are taking place, during the Sandy aid bill deliberations, 36 Republicans in the Senate voted against the Sandy aid bill. In the words of Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe, he described it as a slush fund because it had monies not just for those in the Northeast who had been affected, but other places like the Virgin Islands, he says, and roof and roads in Washington, D.C. Would the President exclusively sign an aid bill going forward if the money is limited exclusively to Oklahoma, or will he sign a bill if there is anything outside of Oklahoma in that aid bill?
MR. CARNEY: I think you’re way ahead of the process and any assessment of what needs there might be in the recovery effort after this terrible severe weather and tornado in Oklahoma.
Right now, as I said, FEMA has sufficient resources to respond. It has generally been our position that we have been appreciative of Congress’s willingness to work with us to ensure that people and regions affected by these kinds of natural disasters are assisted right away and that the resources necessary are provided to them. But, again, that is a general proposition. We are not at the stage yet in assessing the impact of the storms and weather in Oklahoma to know what kind of needs there will be.
Q Yesterday the President called President of Lebanon and raised concern about Hezbollah’s role in fighting on the side of the Assad regime. Is this a sign the White House is concerned that this link-up, which is also involving Iran, could tip the conflict back towards the Assad government?
MR. CARNEY: It's a sign that we are concerned, as are our partners and allies, about the expansion of this conflict. We have condemned, and condemn again, Hezbollah's direct intervention in the assault on Qusayr -- if I'm pronouncing that correctly -- where Hezbollah fighters are playing a significant role in the regime's offensive. Hezbollah's occupation of villages in Syria and its support for the regime and pro-Assad militias exacerbate and inflame regional sectarian tensions and perpetuate the regime's campaign of terror against the Syrian people.
I think, as asked earlier about something we've discussed in the past about Iran's support for Assad and Hezbollah's support for Assad, I think it says a lot about Assad that this is where he is looking for assistance. And we strongly condemn that direct intervention. And as the President reiterated in his call with the Lebanese President yesterday, we continue to fully support Lebanon's stated policy of "disassociation" from the Syria crisis, and urge all parties in the region to act with restraint and respect for Lebanon's stability and security.
Q Does this growing role of Hezbollah complicate or sway the deliberations the President is taking about how U.S. support for the rebels will evolve?
MR. CARNEY: I think that there are a number of things that are factored into the deliberations about the options that the President's team is constantly reviewing. The fact that you have this involvement by Hezbollah is something that we strongly condemn because of the effects that it has and the impact it has on inflaming regional tensions and sectarian tensions.
It is precisely why we need to move forward with a political transition in Syria, so that we can create -- or begin to create a post-Assad Syria. And that's why we're working with our allies and partners in the Syrian opposition to help bring that about, and will continue to do so.
Q Follow up on that, Jay?
MR. CARNEY: Sure.
Q What are the thoughts here about reported Saudi and other regional support for some of the opposition groups in Syria -- financial and otherwise support -- that could also affect the transition that the U.S. wants to see there?
MR. CARNEY: I'm sorry, be more specific. What do you mean?
Q Well, there are reports that the Saudis are supporting some of the opposition groups in Syria. And that, if you follow some of the logic you've just said, could also prolong the situation and delay a transition.
MR. CARNEY: Well, without commenting on the specifics of that report because I'm not sure which groups you're talking about, obviously we are providing direct assistance to the Syrian opposition. We are also providing direct assistance to the Supreme Military Council of the opposition, non-lethal assistance.
It is certainly our view that the violence in Syria is the responsibility of and was precipitated by Bashar al-Assad, and that the transition to a peaceful Syria will be hastened by Assad's departure. It is certainly appropriate that the opposition is capable of organizing itself and defending itself. And we have provided non-lethal assistance to the opposition as well as a significant amount of humanitarian aid to the Syrian people.
It has long been our view that we need to take steps, and as we evaluate steps that we do take and that we could take, we look at them through the prism of what will actually help bring about that transition more quickly, and we look at possible options and ask the question, will embracing this option actually have the counter-effect of prolonging or cause unintended consequences that could make the situation worse, exacerbate it in some way.
So these are -- I think the President has spoken about this, and these are the kinds of assessments that are made all the time as we look at the range of very difficult challenges in Syria.
Q To what extent is the U.S. coordinating with the Saudis on support for specific --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don't have any specific information about that. I can tell you that we coordinate with our partners and allies around the region and the world in assistance -- in dealing with this issue and in our assistance to the Syrian people and opposition. But I don't have anything specific on Saudi Arabia.
Q Thanks, Jay.
MR. CARNEY: Peter.
Q I’m sorry. Don't mean to prolong it. (Laughter.) Don't mean to prolong it, I’m just saying --
MR. CARNEY: Better watch out. She’s tough. (Laughter.)
Q She’s tough, but she should be. A quick question. It’s not actually meant to be argumentative. I’m actually just curious about the answer. You just talked about the need to protect secrets and classified information and that's a crime. I am curious, though, when you were a reporter, did any source ever disclose or discuss classified information with you when you were on this side of the podium?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I think the point that I made, speaking generally and not about a specific case, is that the President doesn't believe that a reporter should be prosecuted for doing his or her job.
Q I got that part. I was curious about your experience.
MR. CARNEY: Well, it’s not about me, Peter. I mean, I think that as a reporter --
Q Well, you often tell us that you’re --
MR. CARNEY: As a reporter, I think I am, at the very least, more intimately aware of these issues than some folks who haven’t had that experience, reporting especially in Washington. And I understand the President’s commitment to and passion for ensuring that there is a defense of the First Amendment and a defense of press freedom and a balance that allows the press to pursue investigative journalism freely.
It is also true -- and I understood this as a reporter, and I’m sure that those of you in this room and your colleagues understand it, too -- that there are secrets, there is classified information that needs to be protected because -- again, I cannot -- this should not be analyzed in relation to any specific case, but it is certainly the case that leaking of specific information that has to do with secret operations or other sensitive matters can harm our national security, can endanger the lives of American men and women. It can endanger the lives of people who provide assistance to the United States and its national security interests.
And these are weighty and serious matters, and it is important to remember that the release of that information is a crime and that it is -- if the government did not take any action, then we might as well just close down the Situation Room and allow those who would do America harm and Americans harm know everything that we’re doing -- because if you -- so that's why there has to be a balance, right? There has to be that balance. And the balance is very important to the President. And I think that it’s reflected in the stands he’s taken in his past, and it’s reflected in what he has said and done as President.
And he is, again, very understanding of the questions that are being asked about the need to find that balance. He thinks they're legitimate and believes that that kind of discussion is healthy for a democracy.
Q My own question is whether you confronted that choice, knowingly possessing classified information you were given by somebody who might have done it illegally, and had to make a decision whether to publish this or not.
MR. CARNEY: Not personally. There are obviously -- every instance is different, as you know. And it is certainly the case that this administration, previous administrations, when information is pending, that we try to work sometimes with news organizations, that an administration would work with news organizations in terms of the timing of the release of that classified information in order to protect as best as we can the national security interests of the United States.
But in terms of my past experience, it’s not particularly relevant. Because I do -- I understand and appreciate, as does the President, the broader questions here, and I wanted to make clear today -- and I want to thank Ed for asking and you for following up -- the fact that even though we cannot comment on the specific cases, and it would be wholly inappropriate if we did, the President is very cognizant of the broader issues here and of the debate here, and cares deeply about press freedom and the need for reporters to be able to work freely.
Thank you all very much.
2:10 P.M. EDT