Monday, May 20, 2013

Pfeiffer’s Hypocrisy: IRS and Abu Ghraib

by Michael Rubin

Speaking on Face the Nation, White House adviser Dan Pfeiffer tried to deflect blame for the brewing IRS scandal by arguing that the only way the scandal might have involved President Obama is if the president had actively sought to interfere in the IRS inspector general’s report. According to’s coverage:

Pfeiffer said that the administration followed the “cardinal rule” of all White Houses. “You do nothing to interfere with an independent investigation and you do nothing to offer the appearance of interfering with investigations,” Pfeiffer said. Once informed, the White House officials responded after they had the facts, he said. Obama has come under fire from Republicans and others for being slow to respond and for saying that he learned only recently of the investigation into IRS officials targeting tea party groups. “What we waited for were the facts,” Pfeiffer said. “It’s important to get out there fast, but it’s important to get out there right.”

To be fair, Pfeiffer is right that much of what we know about the scandal is because the inspector general’s office at the IRS was doing its job, although the bipartisan outrage has resulted from realization of just how corrupt the IRS became under Obama’s watch.

However, where Obama’s hypocrisy shines through is when Pfeiffer’s answer to this question is juxtaposed with the manner in which many partisans treated the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in Iraq. Here is’s Fred Kaplan, for example:

The White House is about to get hit by the biggest tsunami since the Iran-Contra affair, maybe since Watergate. President George W. Bush is trapped inside the compound, immobilized by his own stay-the-course campaign strategy. Can he escape the massive tidal waves? Maybe. But at this point, it’s not clear how. If today’s investigative shockers—Seymour Hersh’s latest article in The New Yorker and a three-part piece in Newsweek—are true, it’s hard to avoid concluding that responsibility for the Abu Ghraib atrocities goes straight to the top, both in the Pentagon and the White House….

That scandal was not uncovered by investigative reporters but, in parallel to today’s IRS scandal, when the internal Defense Department investigation leaked to the press. Yep, that’s right: The Pentagon had learned about the abuses, had investigated them, and moved to shut them down. It was only after the abuses ceased that The New Yorker and Sixty Minutes II published word of what went on at Abu Ghraib. Make no mistake: the abuses at Abu Ghraib were inexcusable. Frankly, I wish Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld had heeded the policy recommendation the policy shop in which I had worked had put forward: dynamite Abu Ghraib as soon as control over Iraq is consolidated, because the prison was already a symbol of the worst excesses of Saddam Hussein’s rule. With the report’s damning findings, Rumsfeld rightly offered to resign. Twice. Whatever Rumsfeld’s faults, he did not view accountability as a dirty word.

With all due respect to Mr. Pfeiffer, that the IRS inspector general identified the abuse is neither here nor there, just as with Abu Ghraib. The fact of the matter is that the abuse occurred, and the IRS sought to use its powers to play politics, and then apparently held the report until after the elections in order to further insulate Obama’s team from public accountability.
Michael Rubin


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