Fox News contributor Monica Crowley tried to tie the White House to the IRS' inappropriate targeting of conservative organizations by seizing on reports that IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman visited the White House more than other senior staff -- a theory undermined both by reports explaining the complexity of White House visitor logs and the IRS' crucial role in health care implementation.
On Fox News' Happening Now, Crowley claimed that Shulman visited the White House 157 times, and that “118 of those visits happened when the IRS was targeting conservatives and other groups, religious groups, and so on.” The Daily Caller similarly reported that Shulman visited the White House at least 157 times during the Obama administration, which it claimed was “more recorded visits than even the most trusted members of the president's Cabinet.”
During the segment, Crowley noted this number seemed especially high in comparison to number of visits made by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who reportedly made “fewer than 50 visits in this time frame.”
But Crowley's source for these claims, the White House public visitor records, makes comparisons between visiting officials unreliable at best. Crowley's attack also ignores the role of the IRS in implementing the health care law, which proved to be the main reason behind Shulman's visits.
The Huffington Post reported that Shulman, whose office was charged with new authority under the health care law, visited mostly with staffers in charge of implementing the Affordable Care Act -- “indicating that the main conspiracy unearthed here is one to implement a law passed by Congress.”
Further, Crowley's charge that Shulman visited with White House staff more often than the secretary of Health and Human Services is also faulty. As The Washington Post explains, the White House visitor logs “only reflect the information the White House chooses to record” and “certainly doesn't show what regular guests some Cabinet secretaries are.” From the article:
The Post's database of White House visitor logs doesn't tell the whole story. The logs only reflect the information the White House chooses to record. It certainly doesn't show what regular guests some Cabinet secretaries are at the campus centered around 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.--which we explained by noting that “bigwigs...most often get waved in,” rather than having to get logged in like the rest of the commoners.
Cabinet secretaries sometimes get the formal log-in treatment at official events at the White House--often when they are accompanied by spouses or other family members to events like state dinners or barbeques.
In The Atlantic, Garance Franke-Ruta explained that the White House visitor logs are not meant to be a complete record of appointments, nor is it an accurate account of White House-specific guests, since it records visitors to other executive branch office buildings, some off the White House grounds:
The real problem with combing through the White House visitor logs is that they were a system designed for Secret Service clearance and White House security, not as comprehensive means of documenting every visitor to the White House, high to low. They miss the top end and some of the social end of people visiting the White House -- people who are cleared through separate processes designed to protect presidential security other than getting swiped in at the front gate for an appointment.
The lay reader understands the White House to be the big white mansion with the columns and the Oval Office and the West Wing and the presidential family living in residence. The Daily Caller talked about visits to “the president's home.” But the White House visitors' records cover the entire White House complex -- the big famous white building, along with the freestanding Eisenhower Executive Office Building inside the gated compound and the New Executive Office Building, which is up 17th Street and outside the White House gates.
The vast majority of Shulman's scheduled meetings were to take place in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building -- 115 of them. Another three were slated for the NEOB. That leaves just 25 percent of the meetings in the White House itself, or on its South Lawn.
Franke-Ruta also lists “who the IRS chief was scheduled to meet with, by building and by year, according to the visitor's logs,” including the key point:
Again: This doesn't mean he actually went to meetings with all these folks, only that he was formally cleared for entry to meetings in which they were the point person organizing the gathering.