The timing of Obama’s meeting with IRS Chief Counsel William Wilkins – just two days before Wilkins issued Tea Party targeting guidance – is not the only thing, uh, strange about said meeting. The Tax Prof has received an e-mail from an attorney in the general counsel’s office in a federal agency. The attorney states that this kind of meeting with a President is out of the ordinary, improper, and, well, hard to explain away.
I’ll restrain myself, dispense with further commentary, and simply let the attorney speak:
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.