The IRS Scandal Choice: Contrived Ignorance By The President Or Incompetentence By White House Counsel

Unethical lawyer, or ethical pawn in an unethical plan.

Unethical lawyer, or ethical pawn in an unethical plan.

Media reports tell us that White House Counsel Kathy Ruemmler was told on April 24 that the IRS had improperly targeted tea party and other conservative groups, according to an Inspector General audit. She did not tell her client, President Obama, about the fact. [ UPDATE: Law professor and esteemed legal ethics authority Richard Zitrin correctly points out that Ruemmler’s client is the office of the President, not the President himself. So far, I have yet to be convinced that this changes the analysis below.]

There is no way to spin this that doesn’t look bad for either Ruemmler, Obama, or both. The news media has been typically inept in explaining this ethical point. If Ruemmler, on her own, decided to withhold the information to “protect” the President, she was violating her ethical duties, as well  as her duties to the President, his office, and the country. If she was following his directive in keeping him in the dark, then President Obama is guilty of the ethical misconduct of contrived ignorance, a device that is almost always accompanied by knowledge of wrongdoing and irresponsible leadership. Which was it? Continue reading