House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) appeared on CNBC yesterday, and made a comment about the IRS controversy that struck me as problematic. Cantor, like most Republicans, seems have abandoned the argument the White House intervened and directed the tax agency on tax-exempt applications, and is now arguing that the White House should have intervened and directed the tax agency on tax-exempt applications, even during the Inspector General probe.
"If you've got an ongoing IG investigation or audit and there comes to you information about this type of behavior where you are discriminating against political opponents, I do not accept the fact that the White House says well we couldn't interfere with that audit or that investigation. That's not true. They know that kind of activity was going on. That is clearly a point at which they should have gone in and said, 'Don't do that anymore.' And that would not have interfered with the continuance of that investigation by the Inspector General."
There's quite a bit wrong with this. In fact, Cantor, who routinely struggles with the details of various developments, seems confused about some of the basics.
First, there's the "there comes to you information" phrase -- as Cantor sees it, the White House was notified about potential trouble at the IRS in 2012 and had a responsibility to act. He's mistaken -- the White House was notified of the Inspector General's investigation in April 2013, once it was complete and ready to be published. Cantor's theory seems to be based on his trouble with the calendar.
Second, and just as important, Cantor believes White House officials who didn't know about IRS troubles could have given agency officials instructions without interfering with the ongoing investigation. You know who disagrees? House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who said the exact opposite just last week. And I think it's fair to say Issa has no interest in helping bolster the White House's arguments.
And while we're at it, let's go ahead and note that Cantor believes the IRS office in Cincinnati was "discriminating against political opponents," but let's not forget that several liberal groups were subjected to the same scrutiny.
So what in the world is Eric Cantor talking about? And why is he repeating bogus arguments on national television?
A Cantor spokesperson told Dave Weigel:
"As soon as questions were raised or an investigation known, IRS and Administration leaders could have and should have reiterated the nonpartisan operating principles to employees, and perhaps taken further steps, to ensure this political targeting of American taxpayers had ceased and would not happen ever again. The White House continues to say that an investigation ties their hands completely, and that simply is not true."
Of course, by this reasoning, congressional Republicans could have "reiterated the nonpartisan operating principles to employees" as well, since they were notified of the IG probe last summer. And why didn't they? Because congressional Republicans, like the administration, decided to let the IG investigation proceed so officials would have all the facts.
That was the right call. That Cantor is so eager to manufacture an administration scandal that he chooses not to understand this is a shame.