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Doyle McManus: Obama needs to be more forthcoming about IRS

By Doyle McManus

Los Angeles Times

Published: Sunday, May 26 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

A Pew Research Center poll released this week found that only 31 percent of the public believes that the IRS' Cincinnati cabal made its decisions without direction from higher-ups. A larger number, 42 percent, said they believe the administration ordered political scrutiny of conservative groups; 27 percent had no opinion. Many of those surveyed haven't followed the affair closely enough to form a view, but the numbers still aren't good.

Republicans are demanding a special prosecutor to investigate. Obama wants to avoid that path, for good reason: Special counsels take a long time. The prosecutor who investigated the leak of a CIA officer's identity during the George W. Bush administration took three years; the investigations of President Clinton took seven.

If Obama wants to avoid that fate, he's going to have to press McDonough and his insular staff to do more. They could start by heeding the advice they got during a quiet meeting last week of Democratic veterans of earlier scandals.

"You've got to get out in front of it," said Mike McCurry, who served as Clinton's spokesman during that president's darkest days. "Otherwise, you risk getting run over."

And when Congress asks for documents, the lawyers may advise the administration to resist — but it should negotiate instead.

"The minute you start fighting over it, everybody will assume, rightly or wrongly, that you're trying to protect the president over something nefarious," former CIA General Counsel Jeffrey H. Smith noted.

If Obama can show that his lieutenants had nothing to do with the IRS' misdeeds, so much the better. But if he wants a quick end to the pain of this congressional inquiry, he needs to be more forthcoming.

Doyle McManus is a columnist for The Los Angeles Times.

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