The Daily Caller story that kicked off the latest round of finger-pointing and blame in the IRS “scandal” currently gripping the right blogosphere and Fox News was actually based on erroneous information. According to the Atlantic, the editorial staff at the Caller overestimated the number of visits by now-former IRS director Douglas Shulman by 146, claiming that Shulman visited the Obama White House 157 times rather than the 11 visits he is confirmed to have actually made.
The Daily Caller eagerly reported on Wednesday that Shulman, a George W. Bush appointee, visited President Barack Obama’s White House “at least 157 times during the Obama administration, more recorded visits than even the most trusted members of the president’s Cabinet.”
The Tucker Carlson-run conservative website failed to make the distinction between the actual White House and the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, which is covered by the Secret Service’s visitors’ log. Shulman was required to meet with administration officials about the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare,” in the Eisenhower Building. The Secret Service log also covers the New Executive Building, which is located up 17th Street and off the White House grounds.
According to the Atlantic:
Shulman was cleared primarily to meet with administration staffers involved in implementation of the health-care reform bill. He was cleared 40 times to meet with Obama’s director of the Office of Health Reform, and a further 80 times for the biweekly health reform deputies meetings and others set up by aides involved with the health-care law implementation efforts. That’s 76 percent of his planned White House visits just there, before you even add in all the meetings with Office of Management and Budget personnel also involved in health reform.
Furthermore, there’s no proof that Shulman did or did not attend the meetings, since there are no arrival or departure times listed. He may have been scheduled to pass through the Secret Service checkpoints, but this has little bearing on whether he did. Shulman’s time of arrival is only confirmed for 11 specific events between 2009 and 2012.
“That does not mean that he did not go to other meetings,” wrote the Atlantic‘s Garance Franke-Ruta, “only that the White House records do not show he went to the 157 meetings he was granted Secret Service clearance to attend.”
At least one Shulman visit to the White House grounds had nothing to do with IRS business or the ACA. Virginia Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly asked Shulman in a Congressional hearing last week what would occasion a visit to the White House for him.
“Um, the Easter Egg Roll with my kids,” Shulman replied.
Franke-Ruta wrote that Secret Service logs are a wildly imprecise means of determining the comings and goings of visitors to the White House. The procedure is not the only means of getting clearance to enter the White House security perimeter. In large social gatherings like the aforementioned Easter Egg Roll, people enter the White House gates in pre-cleared carloads.
The Center for Public Integrity reported in April, 2011 that “(t)he logs include names of people cleared by the Secret Service for White House entry who never showed up. The Center analysis found more than 200,000 visits with no time of arrival, an indication the person didn’t enter the White House though there is no way to know for certain.”
Even the Caller admitted at the end of its article that “it is probable that the vast majority of visits by major Cabinet members do not end up in the public record.”
[image of Tucker Carlson via Flickr user Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons licensed]