White House Press Secretary Jay Carney started a new week much as he ended the last one—under assault from all sides of the White House press corps Monday, as a reporters seized on new scandal revelations and demanded more information.
Time and again, Carney refused to address news that the Justice Department seized phone and email records of Fox News reporter James Rosen as part of a leak investigation. “I cannot comment on a specific ongoing investigation,” he said, in one form or another, nearly a dozen times.
As for the still developing IRS scandal, Carney changed the administration’s tune from last week. For the first time, he admitted that senior White House officials, including chief of staff Denis McDonough, were informed of the IRS investigation by the counsel’s office before news of the investigation leaked to the press. Last week, he said only the White House counsel’s office was informed before it was released publicly. “I didn’t know until Friday, but I didn’t—you know, I’m getting this information to you now,” he told reporters. Who exactly in the White House had been informed? “I don’t have a list for you,” Carney said.
The White House appeared to be regaining its footing from a troika of scandals late last week as Obama announced the resignation of the acting IRS commissioner, released the full Benghazi emails and parried questions about the subpoena of phone records from the Associated Press. But for Carney, there has scarcely been a let-up in the pressure. He has been under fire for at least two weeks now, beginning with new details about the Benghazi attack from whistleblowers testifying before Congress. It was amplified by emails of internal deliberations over talking points after the Benghazi attack that showed a more involved editing hand than he let on in November. Senior administration officials later said Carney hadn’t reviewed those emails before he spoke out about them.
On Monday, Carney reaffirmed that senior aides did not inform Obama before news of the audit broke publicly, saying it was “appropriate” for the top aides to keep that information from the president, but rebuffing the assertion that he was being insulated from the scandal as “absurd.”
“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,” he said, setting aside the possibility that Obama, like his aides, could be informed without taking action.
Carney, who told The New York Times last week that he finds the job “enjoyable” in the midst of swirling scandals, seemed to be finding it less so on Monday. His frequent refrain of ‘appreciating’ questions gave way to the decidedly less welcome “I understand the question” as reporters used his former career as a TIME journalist to repeatedly prod into the administration’s tough approach toward national security leaks.
“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 for—to defend the First Amendment and protect the ability of reporters to pursue investigative journalism,” Carney said.
Rosen was deemed a co-conspirator by the DOJ in an effort to seize phone and email records without notifying the reporter—the latest disclosure of the administration’s aggressive investigations of national security leaks.