The top White House lawyer was alerted the week of April 22 to early findings from an internal audit of the IRS that showed a number of conservative organizations had been improperly targeted for scrutiny, but didn't inform President Barack Obama, sources told The Wall Street Journal Monday.
The president has said he learned of the controversy when it became public on May 10. The Journal's reporting suggests that Obama's inner circle was aware of the targeting debacle but kept it from him.
The revelation has sparked a debate about whether the Office of the White House Counsel and its chief lawyer, Kathryn Ruemmler, should immediately have informed the president, and what, if anything, was known by other senior officials at the time, or even before the presidential election in November, the Journal reported.
Lanny Davis, a former special counsel to President Bill Clinton, told the Journal that "anyone who knew about this a few weeks ago and didn't tell the president shouldn't be in the White House."
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But others say the White House counsel was correct to withhold the information from the president, since the inspector general's report was not finalized and that his early knowledge of the situation could have led to charges he was trying to unduly influence the outcome of the independent investigation.
Dan Pfeiffer, a White House senior adviser, said Sunday on "Meet the Press" that the matter "was handled in the exact appropriate way."
"We do not ever do anything to give the appearance of interference in an investigation," he said. "What would be an actual scandal would be if we somehow were involved."
Republican lawmakers, meanwhile, are moving forward with their own investigation, with hearings set for this week before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
"Exactly who in the administration knew what about the IRS targeting is one of the key outstanding questions," Committee Chairman Darrell Issa said in a statement, the Journal reported. "In waiting so long to address wrongdoing and inform the public, President Obama and his administration seem more preoccupied with having deniability than quickly addressing serious wrongdoing."
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