On Sunday, I wrote:
We’ll get a sense pretty soon of whether the White House feels safely distant from this on Monday. If they do, they will announce an independent investigation. If they don’t, that will be an indication that they are worried this will come back to bite them.
Well, know we know. On Monday the president finally commented, only in response to a direct question and not to announce an independent investigation. He’s sticking with the non-independent one:
The [inspector general] is conducting their investigation and I’m not going to comment prematurely.
Ah yes, the I-can’t-answer-questions-while-the-investigation-is-underway ploy. Mustn’t neglect that!
UPDATE: This came out later in the day, and I’m not quite sure what to make of it
Attorney General Eric Holder said on Tuesday that he had ordered an FBI investigation to determine whether the Internal Revenue Service broke any laws when it targeted conservative groups for closer scrutiny of their tax-exempt status.
“I have ordered an investigation. … The FBI is coordinating with the Justice Department to see if any laws were broken,” Holder said. “I think as everyone can agree if not criminal, [those actions were] certainly outrageous and unacceptable.”
The FBI is certainly more independent than the IRS inspector general, but it’s no special counsel. One reading of this is that Holder is confident that the scandal won’t come back to the White House. But if that were true, he would appoint a special counsel. He isn’t doing that. Another reading is that he is confident that he can control the investigation.
I actually think a third reading is most likely: If you read his remarks carefully, this could be a very narrow investigation; one in which they’re not looking to get to the bottom of it, just to see if any laws were broken. If they find only disgusting partisan abuse of power, but nothing they can prosecute in court, they fold up shop and say nothing. Then the administration says the FBI cleared them.
Only time will tell.