Obama on Clinton emails, IRS, VA, Fast and Furious: I heard about it on the news
The most powerful man in the world sure seems to get a lot of information about what’s going on inside his administration from outside news reports.
The latest example was President Obama saying in an interview aired over the weekend that he learned of his former secretary of state’s personal email use from the media.
Asked when he first found out Hillary Clinton was using a non-official system to conduct government business, Obama told CBS News: “The same time as everybody else, through news reports.”
It wasn’t quite that simple, as the White House soon clarified. Press Secretary Josh Earnest acknowledged Monday that Obama and Clinton did exchange emails.
“The president, as I think many people expected, did over the course of his first several years in office, trade emails with the secretary of state,” he said.
Presumably, that means the president would have noticed Clinton was not using a “.gov” account. But Earnest said Obama nevertheless was unaware of Clinton’s personal email server and how she was following federal records law.
This, of course, is hardly the first time Obama has claimed he was in the dark about a scandal in his administration until it surfaced in the news.
Here’s a look back at other news flashes delivered to the White House on his watch.
1. VA wait-time scandal
When news reports broke that dozens of veterans died while waiting for care at a Phoenix VA facility, then-White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was asked about the claims at a May 19, 2014, briefing.
“I believe we learned about them through the reports. I will double-check if that’s not the case. But that’s when we learned about them, and that’s when, as I understand, Secretary [Eric] Shinseki learned about them and immediately took the action that he has taken, including instigating his own review … but also requesting that the inspector general investigate,” Carney said.
Shinseki resigned several days later, and was replaced.
2. IRS targeting
Then-IRS senior official Lois Lerner admitted in May 2013 that her agency had conducted inappropriate targeting of conservative groups, by singling them out for additional — often drawn-out — scrutiny when applying for tax-exempt status.
Obama was asked about the revelation during a joint press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron.
“I first learned about it from the same news reports that I think most people learned about this,” Obama said. “I think it was on Friday. And this is pretty straightforward.”
The president was asked again about the issue during a press conference with Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan — specifically whether the White House knew about the IRS actions before April, when his counsel’s office first learned of them.
“I can assure you that I certainly did not know anything about the IG report before the IG report had been leaked through the press,” Obama said, referring to a highly critical IG report that helped drive the IRS’ public admission. “Typically, the IG reports are not supposed to be widely distributed or shared.”
3. DOJ press subpoenas
Around the same time as the IRS controversy, it was revealed that the Justice Department had issued subpoenas for Associated Press phone records.
Asked on May 14, 2013, when Obama found out, Carney said: “Yesterday. Let me just be clear. We don’t have any independent knowledge of that. He found out about the news reports yesterday on the road.”
4. Fast and Furious
Obama was asked in a March 22, 2011, interview with CNN Espanol about the Fast and Furious scandal, where federal law enforcement officials allowed guns to be illegally trafficked across the Mexican border and tried to monitor them. The weapons later showed up at numerous crime scenes, including when border agent Brian Terry was killed in December 2010.
Obama said at the time:
“I heard on the news about this story that Fast and Furious, where allegedly guns were being run into Mexico and ATF knew about it but didn’t apprehend those who had sent it. Eric Holder has — the attorney general has been very clear that he knew nothing about this. We had assigned an IG, inspector general, to investigate it.”
Carney reiterated that point again at a press briefing in June 2012.
“Everyone knows the president did not know about this tactic until he heard about it through the media; the attorney general did not know about it,” he said. “The tactic itself was employed by the previous administration in a different operation. This was a field office tactic that was flawed. And when the attorney general learned about it, he took action to ensure that it was no longer used, and he directed the inspector general at the Department of Justice to investigate.”
5. Air Force One flyover
Early on in the Obama administration, in April 2009, an Air Force One flyover was staged over New York City as part of a photo op and exercise. But local officials had not been notified, and, in a city still shaken by the 9/11 attacks, the flyover caused public panic.
Asked about it on April 28, Obama said: “It was a mistake, as was — as was stated. It was something we found out about along with all of you and it will not happen again.”