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By Chief Washington Correspondent Jake Tapper
Comments made by former White House adviser and Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter on CNN's "The Lead" last week about meetings at the White House attended by both her and the then-director of the Internal Revenue Service, Doug Shulman, have prompted some conservatives to question her role in those meetings.
The White House has acknowledged that IRS officials seem to have inappropriately focused on conservative groups when vetting whether the groups qualified for special tax exempt status. White House visitor logs suggest that Shulman was cleared to attend meetings in the White House or Eisenhower Executive Office Building 157 times, which has prompted questions from Republican officials as to whether the targeting of conservative groups was ever discussed. More than 50 of Douglas Shulman's scheduled visits are described as "health care meetings" or "health care reform meetings," according to the visitor logs.
On "The Lead's" political roundtable discussion about Shulman’s visits on Friday, Cutter – now a CNN contributor – said that “many of those meetings were for health care implementation. I was in them with him. So there is nothing nefarious going on.” (You can read the transcript HERE, or watch the roundtable discussion in the video above.)
Many conservative outlets have seized upon Cutter’s presence in the meetings as reason for suspicion. “The president's deputy campaign manager attended the ‘nonpolitical’ ObamaCare implementation meetings with the former IRS commissioner at the White House,” wrote an Investor’s Business Daily editorial. “She wasn't there to discuss the Easter Egg Roll.”
Wrote Carol Platt Liebau at Townhall.com, “as everyone knows, Stephanie Cutter's expertise is not primarily in the policy area; it is in the realm of politics: Political strategy and communications. She has been described by the Daily Beast as a partisan ‘pit bull.’ Her job isn't the nuts and bolts of governing. She is a political fixer. That's why she was a Deputy Campaign manager for the President's re-election.”
Cutter has managed the political and communications strategy for myriad controversial projects – improving Michelle Obama’s public image during the 2008 campaign, trying to help Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner craft and sell the Financial Stability plan in early 2009, and running the confirmation for the Supreme Court nomination of now-Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
Cutter explains her presence this way: President Obama brought her back to the White House in April 2010 as “Assistant to the President for Special Projects” to help oversee implementation of health care. (She had previously served in the White House, but had left in August 2009 when her former boss, Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, was dying.) She stayed at the White House until the end of 2011, when she moved to Chicago to become deputy campaign manager for Obama's 2012 reelection campaign.
In her new White House role, Cutter participated in many Cabinet and sub-Cabinet level meetings on health care, and she says Shulman was in some, though she doesn’t recall exactly how many. She says these were meetings about implementation of the health care law that passed in 2010.
“By all accounts, even many in the right wing who may not agree with it, the health care law has been implemented thus far effectively and efficiently,” Cutter told CNN. “Principal meetings among all cabinet agencies tasked with implementation were a big part of that.”
Did she have any conversations about targeting conservative groups? Did she ever hear any conversations about targeting conservative groups?
“Of course not,” Cutter tells CNN. “No.”