As the Obama staff labors to deny they’re waging what’s being called “Obama’s war on journalism,” it might not help to have journalists mocked as fussy “figure skating judges.”
In today’s Washington Post that’s what we read from David Plouffe as he defended the White House from the “minutiae” that the White House counsel urgently wanted to keep Obama clueless about a Treasury Department inspector general’s report on the IRS scandal:
Plouffe — who derided the press corps as “figure skating judges” for focusing on minutiae — said the counsel’s office is routinely notified about inspector general reports.
The story was placed on page A-4 under the headline “On IRS, senior aides focused on shielding Obama.” Ironically, that’s right next to a story headlined “Carney softens his stance with reporters.”
For most of the story, Post reporters Philip Rucker and Juliet Eilperin line up support for Obama White House Counsel Kathy Ruemmler by interviewing her pals among the “many prominent lawyers in Washington:
She’s a lawyer’s lawyer,” said Neal Katyal, acting solicitor general in Obama’s first term and a close friend. “She can go with you toe to toe on footnotes and Supreme Court opinions or she can get into the intricacies of protecting the president against a Capitol Hill investigation.”
In the IRS case, many prominent Washington lawyers say Ruemmler made the sensible legal call. She protected her client — Obama — by distancing him from a politically sensitive problem and ensuring that he could not be accused of meddling in an inquiry.
...Associates say the way the IRS situation was handled fits with Ruemmler’s approach to making decisions: wary to act before knowing all the facts, but then decisive once they are clear.
“She’s very deliberate,” said Akin Gump lawyer John M. Dowd, a friend. “There’s no reason to go busting into it... Even though it’s a hot subject and there’s going to be some political implications, to me you wait until you’ve got a work product in your hands.”
This line of defense flies in the face of what liberal reporters have said in past Republican administrations: although the White House Counsel offers legal advice to the President, the Counsel is not the President's personal attorney. Obama is not her client.
But it’s clear from this story she is not a fan of full disclosure and transparency: “Internally, she is a fierce opponent of public disclosures that could expose communications within the executive branch, especially those between the president and his advisers.”
In paragraph 26, we get one Democratic critic of Ruemmler, who is then “corrected” by another Ruemmer besty – Beth Wilkinson, the wife of NBC "Meet the Press" host David Gregory:
Clinton White House counsel Lanny Davis said Ruemmler lacks political and media savvy. He said she had “an obligation to give the president a heads-up and generally describe what might be coming down the track [on the IRS] so you can do crisis management planning.”
Plouffe rejected that criticism, saying, “I know blowhards like Lanny Davis have posited this question, but they’re dead wrong.” Obama, he said, has “plenty of people who give him political advice. He needs a top-flight lawyer who’s going to run a good process, and that’s what she’s done.”
Beth Wilkinson, a Washington lawyer and former Justice Department official, said Ruemmler’s focus on the law is considered a virtue inside the White House.
“She stays in her lane, which people appreciate,” said Wilkinson, a close friend of Ruemmler’s. “She really sees her role as the counsel to the president and to protect the presidency and provide legal advice. She doesn’t try to do other people’s jobs.”
Ruemmler was also defended by Obama spinner Stefanie Cutter, who said “she did a huge service” to Obama by allegedly keeping him in the dark, because “It makes everything that much cleaner.”