White House Continues to Spin IRS E-mail Scandal as 'Republican Conspiracy Theory'

Soon-to-be White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest took to the podium of the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room for his last outing as deputy press secretary. He will move into the White House Press Secretary role next week as Jay Carney officially vacates the job.

If we learned anything from his “test run” today, it’s that Earnest has learned the art of White House spin from his boss. When questioned about the IRS e-mail scandal, Earnest repeatedly touted “Republican conspiracy theories” as the ruling force behind any and all questions involving the scandal.

Roger Runningen of Bloomberg and Ed Henry of Fox News delivered back-to-back questions on the scandal and were given the same answers. Runningen got the ball rolling by asking if anyone has looked into emails sent between the White House and Lois Lerner’s staff and or aids. Earnest quipped,

“I guess I wasn’t aware that was a specific request from Republicans. Have they asked for that?”

Runningen stated, “No. I’m asking you.” Earnest went through and cited all the documents, testimony’s and e-mails that have been handed over and argued that Runningen must clearly be floating around another conspiracy theory being pushed by Republicans,

“The fact of the matter is, we’ve cooperated extensively. Despite that cooperation, we’ve seen continued allegations of Republican conspiracy theories that just never pan out.”

Ed Henry of Fox News immediately followed Runningen in questioning and decided to press Earnest even further regarding the email situation. Henry noted that everyone is aware of the information that has been released and investigated, but the concern is the fact that,

"When two years of emails from the time period that’s being investigated when Tea Party groups were allegedly targeted, we don’t know all the facts."

Henry pressed Earnest, “You don’t seem to be taking that point seriously.”

Earnest tried to pin Henry in a corner by reading a quote from Rep. Darrell Issa talking about technological failures and said Issa’s comments don’t line up with his recent line of suggestion that there’s a “broader political conspiracy.” Henry tried to get Earnest to quit with the conspiracy line by stating that,

"If the if the e-mails are there you can show, 'hey there’s no conspiracy.' That’s the question. I understand you want to keep saying this is about Republicans."

But Earnest insisted that “Republicans want to make it about Republicans" and ended by repeating his line that,

“Despite all of the data that has been provided to Congress, there is not a shred of evidence that substantiates Republican conspiracy theories.”
 

The relevant portion is transcribed below:

C-SPAN
White House Press Briefing
June 20, 2014
1:50 p.m. Eastern

ROGER RUNNINGEN: I want to clarify something. The White House is opposed to a special prosecutor, right, on the e-mail controversy?

EARNEST: Yes, for the wide range of reasons I cited earlier.

RUNNINGEN: On the investigation of the emails did the investigators or the White House counsel look at or look for emails between the White House and the chief of staff or other aids of Lerner’s?

EARNEST: Are you asking about e-mails that would have been exchanged –

RUNNINGEN: ...from the White House to the Lerner’s chief of staff or her other aids... top aids.

EARNEST: I guess I wasn’t aware that was a specific request from Republicans. Have they asked for that?

RUNNINGEN: I don’t know. I’m asking you.

EARNEST: Roger, it turns out there have been 13 months of multiple congressional investigations including 14 congressional hearings, 30 interviews with IRS employees, 50 written congressional requests, and 750,000 pages of documents. And all of that has done nothing to substantiate false republican claims of a broader political conspiracy. I don’t know if you’re floating another conspiracy or if this is a request from Republicans who are floating a conspiracy. Or what exactly the suggestion is. The fact of the matter is, we’ve cooperated extensively. Despite that cooperation, we’ve seen continued allegations of republican conspiracy theories that just never pan out.

ED HENRY: On that point, we understand I think, what Roger is trying to get at is what I asked Jay a couple of days ago. Which is that, we understand that the IRS has turned over tens of thousands of emails. But when two years of emails from the time period that’s being investigated when Tea Party groups were allegedly targeted, we don’t know all the facts. How can you say there’s been extensive cooperation if two years of emails are just missing. You don't seem to be taking that point seriously.

EARNEST: Well I guess what I would say Ed, is that I think it’s fair that we recognize that software moves on and archiving in a digital age is not as easy as it might seem to the public. Those aren’t just my comments those are actually the comments of congressmen Darrell Issa on February 26, 2008. So his suggestion that there’s somehow political conspiracy going on here isn’t consistent with what he’s previously said on this kind of issue.

HENRY: Again no conspiracies. If the if the e-mails are there you can show, ‘hey there’s no conspiracy.’ That’s the question. I understand you want to keep saying this is about Republicans.

EARNEST: No, I think Republicans want to keep making it about Republicans

HENRY: Why are two years of e-mails missing?

EARNEST: Because there was a computer crash. And what we’ve seen is a demonstrated effort from this administration and by the IRS to try and cooperate with legitimate questions from the committee on this.
[...]
Despite all of the data that has been provided to Congress, there is not a shred of evidence that substantiates republican conspiracy theories.

Jackie Seal
Jackie Seal is a 2014 summer intern with the MRC's News Analysis Division.