White House Press Secretary Jay Carney is sweating it out under the harsh lights of the White House briefing room these days, revising stories and spinning away suspicious facts in what is becoming an almost comical daily exercise in scandal avoidance.
“Are you going to ask me about Myanmar?” Carney joked Monday as yet another White House reporter teed up a question about one of the various scandals swirling about the administration. The leader of Myanmar was to meet with President Obama later in the day.
Carney Monday was escorted by reporters down several nightmarish paths. The most ghastly of them all was the one on which he was forced to acknowledge that more White House officials than previously disclosed knew about the Treasury inspector general’s IRS report, and that the information was far more substantive than the simple “heads up” Carney had said it was.
To be fair, it appears that Carney himself was on the wrong end of a deception, and that his bosses may have withheld information from him indicating that senior aides beyond the White House Counsel were aware of the IG probe before it became public.
If that is so, Carney ought to be threatening to resign, because his credibility is now on the line. His insistence, for example, that the president himself knew nothing of the probe would only appear to be operative until we hear the next version of events.
And he’s still stonewalling – or not being informed – about who else knew, other than Chief of Staff Denis McDonough. “I don’t have a list for you,” he blandly remarked.
Carney has also made the mistake of allowing the questions to become personal. A press secretary should never respond when asked for his own opinion – he speaks for the president, no one else – but Carney, a former leading Washington reporter, clearly has something on his conscience.
“I think that I share the President’s — personally, as a former reporter, but also in this capacity — I share the President’s belief that we need to find a balance,” Carney said when asked about whether the Obama believes that reporters should ever be considered criminals for trying to gather information.
The response was to a question in relation to Monday’s revelation that Fox News reporter James Rosen was judged by the Justice Department as a potential co-conspirator in the case against a State Department official who allegedly leaked him classified materials.
Then things got even more personal. Carney, it turns out, was in the Time Washington bureau chief when a colleague at the magazine, Matt Cooper, was nearly sent to jail after being caught up in a leak investigation.
“What would you have said if the government told you that he had been involved in a crime for reporting on the Valerie Plame case?” Carney was asked,
Carney fled to the most coveted refuge of White House press secretaries: “That’s a hypothetical,” he said.
“It’s not a hypothetical,” the reporter insisted.
Carney clung tight: “That’s a hypothetical.
Finally, some relief:
Reporter: Myanmar, Myanmar.
Carney: Myanmar, in the back, yes. All the way back. Myanmar?