The Weekly Standard has this clip of Obama aide Dan Pfeiffer this morning on ABC's "This Week," asked whether the IRS's actions were illegal:
Drudge links to this in a top-left headline reading "Law is irrelevant," which appears above the main headline: "'IRRELEVANT' WHERE OBAMA WAS DURING BENGHAZI," which links to another Weekly Standard clip of Pfeiffer — appearing, also this morning, on "Fox News Sunday" — saying "I don't remember what room the president was in on that night, and that's a largely irrelevant fact":
The double use of the word "irrelevant" seems significant, but let's notice the difference between the 2 usages.
In talking about Benghazi, the interviewer, Chris Wallace, is trying to extract a specific fact about the events, a fact that has not yet come out and that Pfeiffer might know. Pfeiffer blows out a tirade of truly irrelevant verbiage to distract us from the question asked, including the notion that the fact isn't important. Who cares where the physical body of Obama was as long as he was "in touch"?
Well, some people would like to know, so tell us the fact and let us decide what use to make of it. To withhold the fact — on the ground that, in your opinion, we don't need it — is to make us think it would be damaging. We're likely to think Obama went golfing or something like that. Otherwise, why not just cough up the irrelevant fact? It must be relevant, we think, at least for political purposes, or Pfeiffer wouldn't strain so hard to suppress it. (He does claim at one point that he doesn't remember where Obama was.)
But in the ABC interview, the use of "irrelevant" was mostly a bad choice of words, and it unnecessarily makes Pfeiffer seem cagey and evasive. The question is whether what the IRS did was illegal. Pfeiffer doesn't want to give a legal opinion. He says: "Look, I can't speak to the law here. The law is irrelevant. The activity was outrageous and inexcusable." He could have put that more elegantly: I am not a lawyer, and this does need to be analyzed to determine if there were legal violations, but what I can say clearly and categorically — even if no laws were violated — is that the activity was outrageous and inexcusable.
Not every terrible policy is illegal. You can condemn a policy and vow to end it without determining that it's illegal. Pfeiffer — like Obama — concentrates moving forward and fixing problems, not prosecuting anyone for committing a crime in the process of doing the work of government. I can see why Pfeiffer wants to be circumspect about the question of whether anyone committed a crime, and he's only withholding his own legal opinion, not — as in the Fox News interview — trying to suppress a fact we'd like to know.