By MICHAEL FALCONE (@michaelpfalcone)
- THE PLOT THICKENS: ABC News has obtained a draft of a soon-to-be-released investigative reporting showing that the Internal Revenue Service began targeting conservative groups as far back as 2010 and that senior IRS officials in Washington have known about it for almost two years. Last week, we learned that the IRS was targeting groups with “tea party” or “patriot” in their names, but it goes beyond that, ABC’s JONATHAN KARL reports. The draft report, conducted by the IRS’s internal watchdog, says the agency was tracking groups who’s goals included, quote “limiting government” and “educating on the Constitution and Bill of Rights” and that, “criticize how the country is being run.” Friday, the White House says it had it no idea the IRS was targeting Tea Party-allied groups. WATCH Karl’s “Good Morning America” report: http://abcn.ws/19igrJV
- WHITE HOUSE WEIGHS IN: In a statement this morning White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said that the president is “concerned” the conduct of a few employees of the IRS has “fallen short” of the integrity expected of government officials. “The President believes that the American people expect and deserve to have the very best public servants with the highest levels of integrity working in government agencies on their behalf. Based on recent media reports, he is concerned that the conduct of a small number of Internal Revenue Service employees may have fallen short of that standard. We understand that the matter is currently under review by the Inspector General. If the Inspector General finds that there were any rules broken or that conduct of government officials did not meet the standards required of them, the President expects that swift and appropriate steps will be taken to address any misconduct,” Carney said in the statement.
- ON THE AGENDA: This morning, President Obama and the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister David Cameron will hold a bilateral meeting in the Oval Office followed by a joint press conference in the Rose Garden at 11:15 a.m. ET, ABC’s ARLETTE SAENZ notes. In the afternoon, President Obama flies to New York City where he will give remarks at two fundraisers for the Democratic National Committee at private residences. He will speak at a third fundraiser for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel later tonight. Vice President Joe Biden will deliver the commencement address at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia this morning.
ABC’s JONATHAN KARL: News of the Obama Administration’s role in the extensive editing of CIA talking points on Benghazi rocked the political world last week and prompted a demand from Speaker of the House John Boehner for the release of all related White House emails, but the revelation should not have been news to the Speaker. The White House first briefed the House leadership on the talking point revisions on March 19. The briefing was given to the House Intelligence Committee, but the White House also invited Speaker Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to attend or to send a senior staff member. Boehner did not attend, but he did send staff, according to the Speaker’s office. Those attending the closed briefing were permitted to view the emails, but not to copy them. The Speaker made no public reference to the emails — or the news of the State Department’s role in removing references to terror warnings in Benghazi — until the story became public last week.
ABC’s RICK KLEIN: It was a week that could launch a term’s worth of investigative hearings. Benghazi revelations combined with a stunning admission from the IRS (with more to come on both fronts) to pull the White House, again, off its second-term messaging. They are fully separate storylines, but they share enough strains to undercut credibility in government, and the anger has the potential to cross party lines. That’s a problem for a White House that’s sought to portray these investigations – really, any congressional investigations — as just so much partisan witch-hunting. You don’t have to believe in second-term curses to realize it’s not just tea partiers with the potential to be disturbed by these headlines.
ABC’s DEVIN DWYER: “Nonsense.” That’s how President Obama first responded in November to Republican allegations of a cover-up over the 2012 Benghazi terror attacks. “I’ve said so repeatedly,” he insisted, during an Election Day interview with a local Iowa TV station. Nearly six months later, the fact that Obama is still struggling to put the questions to rest reflects, in part, the serious staying power of his GOP critics. “I would call it a cover-up in the extent that there was willful removal of information, which was obvious,” said Sen. John McCain on ABC’s “This Week.” McCain was among the first to level the charge against the administration back in October. Mr. Obama could today get a second crack at publicly clarifying his response when he faces reporters at a morning news conference with visiting British Prime Minister David Cameron.
ABC’s MICHAEL FALCONE: Also on the agenda at President Obama’s news conference today will be the controversy enveloping the Internal Revenue Service. Over the weekend, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, called on the president to speak out, directly and forcefully, calling the revelations about the special scrutiny the IRS paid to Tea Party and affiliated groups “truly outrageous.” “I think that it’s very disappointing that the president hasn’t personally condemned this and spoken out,” Collins said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “His spokesman has said it should be investigated, but the president needs to make crystal clear that this is totally unacceptable in America.” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney released a statement expressing the president’s “concern” over the revelations, but the pressure is clearly on Obama to go even further today.
ABC’s SHUSHANNAH WALSHE: What year is it again? Can another presidential race really be starting so soon? It sure looked like it this weekend when Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal stopped by a Republican fundraiser in New Hampshire and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul headlined the Iowa GOP’s Lincoln Day Dinner in Iowa. Jindal gave a blunt prescription for his party: “We lost an election that we probably should have won,” he said. “It’s time to get over it,” warning Republicans to look “forward” not backward. As for Paul, his speech focused on two issues he has been closely aligned with recently: The investigation into the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi as well as immigration reform. He called aspects of the attack “inexcusable” and said it should “preclude” Hillary Clinton “from holding higher office.” It earned him huge cheers and set up a line of attack that may continue to be repeated in the years ahead — and possibly on the campaign trail. http://abcn.ws/YAHNsY
ABC’s TOM SHINE: Senate Republicans have found another way to delay a vote on one of President Obama’s nominees — question her to death. According to New York Times reporter Jeremy W. Peters, Senate Republicans sent EPA nominee Gina McCarthy nearly 1,100 written questions and then blocked her nomination in committee last week claiming she “didn’t answer them sufficiently.” Peters points out, by comparison, Henry M. Paulsen Jr., who was nominated by President George W. Bush to be treasury secretary got just 81 question — 49 from Democrats and 32 from Republicans.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ASSERTS BENGHAZI ‘COVER-UP’. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., on Sunday described the Obama administration’s handling of the Benghazi controversy as a “cover up,” following exclusive reporting by ABC News that showed the State Department was involved in editing the CIA’s Benghazi talking points used in the days after the attack on the American diplomatic compound in Libya last year. “I’d call it a cover-up,” McCain told ABC’s MARTHA RADDATZ on “This Week.” “I would call it a cover-up in the extent that there was willful removal of information which was obvious.” McCain criticized White House spokesperson Jay Carney for his characterization of the edits to the talking points, which were eventually used by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice on five Sunday talks shows the weekend after the Benghazi attack. “For the president’s spokesman to say, that, ‘Well, there was only words or technical changes made in those emails’ is a flat-out untruth,” McCain said. “That’s just not acceptable.” http://abcn.ws/10BA63q
–GEORGE WILL on Benghazi: “Was security lax in Benghazi? Demonstrably. Could forces have been got there to rescue them? Doubtful. Has the nation been systematically misled? Certainly. Now, we need a select committee in congress because the State Department’s misnamed accountability review board neglected to interview even the secretary of state.”
–DONNA BRAZILE on Chris Chirstie’s lap-band surgery: “The truth is that I’m rooting for him. I think he’s doing the right thing. Not just for his health, his family, whether it’s 2016 and he’s shaping up for that. He’s — it humanizes him. But it also gives him an opportunity to share with the American people…This will give him an opportunity to talk to the American people about a subject that we should all talk about, our own health.
–RUTH MARCUS on Obama’s Syria strategy: “Every parent knows, if you’re going to make a threat, you need to be willing to follow through on it or else you lose credibility not just with the child that you’re threatening, but with the other kids you have in your family… If there is adequate proof and no consequence, there’s a big loss of credibility. Which is not to say that’s it’s an easy choice, because the consequences are all unpleasant. Something he should have thought of months ago.”
JOE KLEIN: CHRIS CHRISTIE ‘CAN’T RUN FOR PRESIDENT AND LOOK LIKE THAT’. This Week, ABC’s BENJAMIN BELL asked TIME Magazine’s Joe Klein to answer five questions. Here’s a preview: ABC: “To what extent do you think New Jersey Gov. Christie’s decision to have lap band surgery was motivated by politics?” Joe Klein: ”Oh, it was absolutely motivated by politics — you simply can’t run for president and look like that. The question is whether you can run for president and talk like that.” Read the rest of the Q&A: http://abcn.ws/ZX1ufv
DENNIS RODMAN RETURNING TO NORTH KOREA? Dennis Rodman has some fighting words for President Obama, who he says has failed in his foreign policy toward North Korean and its leader Kim Jong-Un, ABC’s REENA NINAN notes. “We got a black president who can’t even go talk to him,” Rodman told celebrity website TMZ.com. “How about that one?” Rodman announced his plans to visit North Korea on Aug. 1 and he’s got a self-imposed mission. He wants to secure the release of 44-year-old Korean American Kenneth Bae, who was recently sentenced to 15 years hard labor. The former NBA player said he’s going because he feels the White House has failed with its North Korea policy. Earlier this year, Rodman visited North Korea and even spent time with the North Korean leader. The two bonded over their love of basketball. Last week, Rodman tweeted this message to Kim Jong-Un: “…do me a solid and cut Ken Bae loose.” U.S. officials told ABC News that they are in touch with Bae’s family. http://abcn.ws/13be6gp
MARIJUANA MOVEMENT PLANTS FLAG ON CAPITOL HILL. The movement to legalize marijuana has arrived at Congress’ back door, reports ABC’s DEVIN DWYER. Later this month the first medical cannabis dispensaries are expected to open in the nation’s capital, including one just eight blocks from the Capitol dome. The milestone is lifting the spirits of pot enthusiasts who believe a safe and profitable marijuana micro-industry in D.C. could help nudge along efforts to decriminalize the drug nationwide. ABC News recently toured the Metropolitan Wellness Center, one of the district’s three soon-to-open shops, located on Capitol Hill. While pot products have yet to hit shelves – the shop is still awaiting a license from the district – general manager Vanessa West said they will soon offer multiple varieties of cannabis, paraphernalia and a mix of pot-infused products, including brownies, cookies and drinks. West, a veteran operator of dispensaries in California who admits she “smoked a little grass in college,” said the sleek, modern set-up of her “product selection and payment room” underscores a serious focus on patients and treating their pain. http://abcn.ws/13dPoMk
WHAT WE’RE WATCHING
CHARLIZE THERON LOBBIES FOR AN AIDS-FREE GENERATION. When Charlize Theron came to Capitol Hill recently, she undoubtedly turned a few heads. But the Academy Award-winning actress didn’t come to be seen; she came to be heard. Ten years after President Bush began an emergency AIDS relief program, known as PEPFAR, Theron is calling on the United States to renew its commitment in the global fight against HIV/AIDS. “We’re looking at our first AIDS-free generation being born in 2015,” Theron told Yahoo! News’ OLIVIER KNOX and ABC’s SUNLEN MILLER. “We can’t stop now.” Theron runs an AIDS support program for youth from her home country of South Africa, Africa Outreach Project, where 10 percent of the population has the disease, and met with members of Congress to talk about her work. For more of the interview with Theron and Executive Director of UNAIDS Michel Sidibé, and to hear about Theron’s offer to serve as President Obama’s tour guide of South Africa, check out this episode of Power Players. WATCH: http://yhoo.it/13swuoF
IN THE NOTE’S INBOX
REPUBLICANS UNVEIL NEW ED MARKEY ATTACK VIDEO. On the same day that the National Republican Senatorial Committee is touting the results of a new GOP-sponsored poll showing a tight race between Democrat Ed Markey and Republican Gabriel Gomez in the special U.S. Senate race in Massachusetts, the NRSC has also released a web video hitting Markey for bouncing checks in the early 1990′s. “Scandals and special insider benefits,” the video’s narrator says, “haven’t we had enough of that?” The video concludes: “It’s time Ed Markey gets a real job. Forty years in Washington is enough.” WATCH: http://bit.ly/13TWDfi
@AriFleischer: If Pres O can call Sandra Fluke because of what Rush Limbaugh said, he can call Tparty groups harassed by what the IRS did.
@ktumulty; At this point, it seems the IRS owes the public the names of every group targeted. It may mean asking each for permission to disclose.
@EvanMcSan: Newt, expanding IRS story: “this admin won’t profile terrorists, but it will profile patriots”
@ron_fournier: Column: “IRS, Benghazi Create Perfect Storm Threatening Obama’s Credibility” http://www.nationaljournal.com/politics/benghazi-irs-create-perfect-storm-threatening-obama-s-credibility-20130513 …