By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone )
ABC's RICK KLEIN: Welcome to the Wednesday news dump, reserved for those weeks where Friday can't get here fast enough. Inside 90 minutes, 100 pages of Benghazi e-mails came out, and a first head rolled at the IRS. It's at least an attempt to get control of spiraling issues over which, according to the president himself, he doesn't have all that much control. This is the kind of week where the famed Obama take-the-long-view sensibility cuts both ways. The first inclination was to keep hands off, even when the immediate situations required hands to be very much on. But as that turn begins, the lack of panic plays better. Until then, the White House takes it day by day; Friday, for the record, is tomorrow.
ABC'S JEFF ZELENY: The White House got the headlines it wanted today by giving a swift ax to the acting IRS commissioner. (In fact, it was so swift that Treasury Secretary Jack Lew had to call into the meeting with the president, since he was home observing the Jewish holiday of Shavuot.) But the IRS was the only one of the three scandals the West Wing could effect in real-time. Left to play defense on Benghazi and DOJ, the president's reaction to IRS took on the fury of all three controversies, so it looks like he is doing something. It definitely bought him some time on Capitol Hill, but only some. The first Congressional hearing is tomorrow.
ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE : One of the most eyebrow-raising questions we came across while reviewing the documents and questionnaires received by Tea Party groups since 2010 is this one inquiring about personal employment outside of members tea party activities: "Other than serving as an officer, director and/or board member for the organization, please provide the names and addresses of each individual's employer/business, the nature of their employment/business, and the number of hours devoted to their employment/business." Seems like a question that could possibly be seen as intimidating especially if you own your own business or if you work for someone else. But, ABC News has learned it wasn't just Tea Party groups that were asked to provide this information. A group named Progress Texas, a liberal organization, was asked the same question. It was similar to a question sent to a Tea Party group called Patriots Educating Concerned Americans Now (PECAN). It took Progress Texas 479 days to receive tax exempt status, proving that at least one progressive group received similar scrutiny.
WHAT WE'RE WATCHING
CHAIRMAN LEADING FRIDAY'S IRS SHOWDOWN ON HILL: 'HEADS WILL ROLL'. One of the lawmakers leading the search for answers in the IRS investigation into how Tea Party groups were treated is Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee. He tells ABC's JEFF ZELENY, host of "The Fine Print" that "there's a culture of rot going on at the IRS" and that "heads will roll" as his subcommittee prepares for the first Congressional hearing on the matter Friday. Boustany characterizes the new Inspector General's report, which reveals that the IRS began targeting these conservative political groups as early as 2010, as "very disturbing." "At the very least it's ineffective management," Boustany says. "We know some egregious abuses occurred at the IRS and whether it's ineffective management, negligence, or deliberate political egregious violations of First Amendment rights for political purposes, we're going to get to the bottom of it." WATCH: http://yhoo.it/16BAF4L
WHAT WE'RE READING
-"AMERICANS DESERVE THE TRUTH ABOUT SCANDALS," a USA Today Op-Ed by Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio. "The last two weeks have further weakened our trust and confidence in our government. And no matter who is in power, Democrat or Republican, that's not good news for our democracy. Revelations of misconduct by the IRS in targeting certain groups based on their politics, the Obama administration misleading us on Benghazi, the Department of Health and Human Services inappropriately raising money from companies they regulate to support ObamaCare, as well as new disclosures about the Department of Justice targeting the Associated Press, all raise serious questions about whether some public servants in Washington are putting short-term political gain ahead of their obligations to the American people. … These four incidents have shaken that trust in ways that will reverberate for years to come. One might be an aberration, two a curiosity, three a coincidence, but four such events indicate a pattern and at the very least, incompetence at the highest levels of our government. Mere apologies are not sufficient." http://usat.ly/146MtrU
-"IRS COMMITS POLITICAL SABOTAGE," an Op-Ed by John Eastman, chairman of the National Organization for Marriage. "In March of 2012 the Human Rights Campaign published a confidential tax return of the National Organization for Marriage, which was immediately republished by The Huffington Post and other liberal news media outlets. The HRC and NOM are the leading national groups on opposing sides of the fight over gay marriage. … The release of NOM's confidential tax return to the Human Rights Campaign is the canary in the coal mine of IRS corruption. Contrary to assertions that the targeting of Tea Party groups was an error in judgment by low-level IRS bureaucrats, the release of NOM's confidential data to a group headed by an Obama campaign co-chair suggests the possibility of complicity at the highest levels of politics and government. This wasn't a low-level error in judgment; it was a conscious act to reward a prominent Obama supporter while punishing an opponent." http://usat.ly/16gSm9Z
BENGHAZI TALKING POINTS CHANGED AT STATE DEPT.'S REQUEST. After months of demands from Republicans in Congress, the White House yesterday released emails related to what the administration said in the days after the terrorist attack in Benghazi, ABC's JONATHAN KARL and CHRIS GOOD report. The emails confirm the ABC News report that the so-called "talking points" written by the CIA on the attack underwent extensive revisions - 12 versions - and that substantial changes were made after the State Department expressed concerns. The early versions of the talking points, drafted entirely by the CIA, included references to the al Qaeda affiliate Ansar al-Sharia and to previous CIA warnings about terror threats in Benghazi. State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland expressed concerns about including those references in the talking points. In one email, previously reported by ABC News, Nuland said that including the CIA warnings "could be used by Members [of Congress] to beat the State Department for not paying attention to Agency warnings so why do we want to feed that? Concerned …" After some changes were made, Nuland was still not satisfied. "These don't resolve all my issues or those of my building leadership," Nuland wrote. All 12 versions of the talking points, as previously reported by ABC News, say that the attack in Benghazi was "spontaneously inspired by protest in Cairo." In other words, all the talk of protests - which proved to be wrong - started with the CIA. What did get removed was the CIA's saying that it believed Ansar al-Sharia took part in the attack and that the CIA had warned of the terror threat. http://abcn.ws/183yUuT
FROM THE SPEAKER'S OFFICE: House Speaker John Boehner's spokesman Brendan Buck weighed in on the Benghazi e-mail release: "The House interim report found that 'senior State Department officials requested the talking points be changed to avoid criticism for ignoring the threat environment in Benghazi' and that those changes were ultimately made. Those findings are confirmed by the emails released today, and they contradict statements made by the White House that it and the State Department only changed one word in the talking points. The seemingly political nature of the State Department's concerns raises questions about the motivations behind these changes and who at the State Department was seeking them. This release is long overdue and there are relevant documents the Administration has still refused to produce. We hope, however, that this limited release of documents is a sign of more cooperation to come."
HOLDER ON THE HOT SEAT. Attorney General Eric Holder, in heated exchanges with the Republican delegation at a House Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday afternoon, said it's "unacceptable" and "shameful" for Rep. Darrell Issa to "misrepresent the facts," ABC's SARAH PARNASS notes. The fireworks began when Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, questioned Holder about the Justice Department's release of emails involving secretary of labor nominee Thomas Perez, as there are questions about his use of a personal account to conduct government business, which would be a violation of the Federal Records Act. "Our investigators have seen 34 of the 35 admitted emails that violate the Federal Records act. They have only seen the to and from. They have not seen the contents, and they have not seen the remainder of the 1,200 emails," Issa told Holder, asking that he make the rest of the emails be made available to the House Judiciary Committee. "It's not something that I have personally been involved in, but I'll look at the request and try to be as responsive as we can," Holder replied, adding, "I'm sure there must have been a good reason why only the to and from parts were provided." http://abcn.ws/16h0s2t
SENATE DEMOCRATS, WHITE HOUSE REVIVE MEDIA SHIELD LAW. ABC News' Mary Bruce, Sunlen Miller and Steven Portnoy report: Faced with blowback after it was revealed this week the Department of Justice secretly obtained Associated Press phone records, the White House and Senate Democrats are reviving legislation to protect journalists. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., yesterday reintroduced the media shield bill, The Free Flow of Information Act of 2013, which would aim to protect journalists from having to reveal information, including source identities, as well as establish a legal framework for determining the "limited circumstances" when this information could be subject to compelled disclosure in court. "The White House has been in contact with Sen. Schumer, and we are glad to see that that legislation will be reintroduced, because he believes strongly that we need to provide the protections to the media that this legislation would do," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters today. "The president believes that the balance that we need to achieve needs to allow the maximum amount of freedom for the media to pursue investigative journalism that's possible. And the media shield law that he supports, or bill that he supports, would go a long way towards achieving that." http://abcn.ws/19usyU6
MARK SANFORD AND THE 'GOD OF SECOND CHANCES'. Mark Sanford, the former Republican governor of South Carolina who left office under the cloud of an extramarital affair more than two years ago only to mount a political comeback with a special election victory earlier this month, was sworn into the House of Representatives Wednesday evening, saying he was "simply humbled to be here," ABC's JOHN PARKINSON reports. Sanford made headlines in 2009 after he skipped the country for Argentina to see his former mistress, now his fiancée, Maria Belen Chapur. During his first remarks on the floor this evening, Sanford, who was sworn in by House Speaker John Boehner, acknowledged her presence in the gallery, seated with two of his sons. "I stand before you as a human being most appreciative in whole new ways for the significance of family and friends," he said. "I see Belen up there, and I see my sons Marshall and Landon. … I see a long list of different friends and I would thank them for their presence here to share this day." Sanford referenced his past transgressions, noting that he appreciated it when a former Democratic colleague in the House called to express support in the wake of his resignation as governor. "I stand before you I guess with a whole new appreciation indeed for a God of second chances and how in the events of our life - up or down they may be - how everyone of us can be refined as human beings," he said. http://abcn.ws/17wzBzg
WHY TAX-EXEMPT GROUPS ARE A POLITICAL MINEFIELD FOR THE IRS. Tax-exemption is one perk of receiving 501(c)4 status from the IRS, but the real reason the tax-exempt status has in recent years become a popular vehicle for groups that straddle the line between advocacy and politics is that the status allows them to do political work and keep their contributions hidden, notes ABC's ABBY PHILLIP. Ever since the 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission Supreme Court ruling allowed corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts of money in political elections as long as they didn't coordinate their activities with campaigns or donate directly to candidates, groups seeking to influence elections but not disclose their donors have flocked to tax-exempt 501(c)4 organizations. The IRS said that applications for tax-exempt status shot up from 1,751 in 2009 to 3,357 in 2012. http://abcn.ws/10Abzef
IN THE NOTE'S INBOX
"FRED AZCARATE LEAVES AFL-CIO TO HEAD COMMUNITY ORGANIZING NETWORK USACTION," by the Huffington Post's Dave Jamieson. "In a sign of how organized labor is trying to spread its roots more broadly in the progressive movement, Fred Azcarate, a longtime labor leader who's been heading the AFL-CIO's jobs campaign, is leaving the union federation to take the helm at USAction, a 21-state federation of community organizing groups. Azcarate was the longtime director of Jobs with Justice, a national network of groups that advocates for low-wage workers, before leading the AFL-CIO's campaign on the ill-fated Employee Free Choice Act. At USAction, he'll build campaigns on some of the issues where organized labor is trying to find more progressive allies, like health care, Social Security, taxes, immigration and voting rights. 'I think our future, not just for labor but for progressives, is around building alliances between labor and community groups,' said Azcarate, 48." http://huff.to/13yU6bg
@KenDilanianLAT: Counter-terrorism leak compromised an informant, sources say http://www.latimes.com/news/politics/la-na-pn-yemen-ap-leak-probe-20130516,0,7043431.story …
@ThePlumLineGS: Today's scandal-mania is increasingly taking on overtones of GOP overreach in 1998: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2013/05/16/the-morning-plum-will-2014-turn-out-to-be-2006-or-1998/ …
@markknoller: "…we have to do everything we can to root this out," Pres Obama said last week about sexual assault in the military.
?@ByronYork: Also, ICYMI: At Holder hearing, did Rep. Gohmert really say, 'The gentleman has cast aspersions on my asparagus?' He did.