Tuesday, July 23, 2013
I am reprinting (with permission) an email I received today from an attorney in the general counsel's office of a federal agency (not the IRS) concerning reports of IRS Chief Counsel William Wilkins' meeting with President Obama in the White House two days before providing guidance to IRS personnel on handling tax-exempt applications from Tea Party and other conservative groups:
As someone who works as an attorney at an agency general counsel's office, I think people are missing the significance of Obama meeting with the IRS chief counsel in the White House. Understand, agency general counsels are not authorized to give legal advice to the President. They advise their agency heads. Only the AG and by delegation the Office of Legal Counsel to the President is authorized to give legal advice to the President. In my seven years of working at a General Counsel's office, I have never once heard of our general counsel meeting with the President. OLC would go crazy if he did. I have worked on a couple of legal opinions that did go to the White House. And each time they were staffed through OLC. Nothing went to the President that wasn't signed off on by OLC and delivered to him by OLC.
So I can't for the life of me come up with any kind of innocent explanation for why Obama would have met with the Chief Counsel of the IRS. That meeting shouldn't ever happen, and especially not without the Commissioner of the IRS being there. Presidents just don't go to agency chief counsels with legal questions. Presidents don't go to anyone with legal questions. Their staff does. The idea that the President would sit down with some random agency chief counsel and discuss some pressing legal issue is just bizarre to anyone who has worked in the legal field at that level. I am not sure the reporters covering this story understand how legal advice is actually delivered to the President and just how out of the ordinary that meeting was.
Update: John Steele (Legal Ethics Forum), "There Is 'No Innocent Explanation' for IRS Chief Counsel's Meeting With Obama"