White House says criticism of its handling of IRS story is "legitimate"

Even though the Obama administration is intent on getting to the bottom of the misconduct at the IRS, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday, there have been "legitimate criticisms of how we're handling this."

After a week of heated questions regarding the IRS scandal, Carney finally told reporters on Monday that top administration aides knew about the scandal last month, prompting questions as to why the White House didn't disclose that earlier.

"We get the information to you that we have as soon as we can, and we try to get that information to you as quickly as possible and as comprehensively as possible," Carney said Wednesday. "Now, quickly and comprehensively are not objectives that always meet. And our approach is, we get the information we have to you and, as we get more information, we fill in the details."

Carney went on to say that the White House is working in unchartered media territory, "in an environment that really never has existed before in terms of the speed of information flow, the rapidity with which information is conveyed and then released."

In spite of the White House's flawed attempts to keep the press up to speed on the administration's knowledge of and involvement in the scandal, Carney said the president "will not be deterred in the effort to find out what happened here and who is responsible."

One key player in the scandal -- Lois Lerner, the head of the tax-exempt organizations division of the IRS -- refused to testify before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Wednesday, invoking the Fifth Amendment. While he wouldn't comment specifically on Lerner's decision, Carney said President Obama has put in a place a process "to find out who was responsible and to ensure that they're held accountable. And to ensure that procedures are put in place that it doesn't happen again."

Daniel Werfel, the senior White House budget officer that Mr. Obama appointed to serve as the new acting IRS commissioner, started his new job Wednesday. The administration has instructed Werfel to report back to the president in 30 days about the progress made in three areas: ensuring that staff who acted inappropriately are held accountable, examining and correcting any failures in the system that allowed the misconduct to happen, and taking a forward-looking, systemic view of the agency's organization.

In Wednesday's House Oversight Committee hearing, congressmen from both parties questioned former IRS commissioner Doug Shulman whether he ever communicated with the White House about the undue scrutiny the IRS was putting on conservative groups. Shulman said he never did, and Carney added, "I certainly have no information to the contrary."