Did David Plouffe Justify IRS Targeting Conservatives?

Obama adviser says he was addressing impact of 'dumb' actions, but tweet is likely to fan flames.

Two days after the IRS apologized for targeting conservative groups for reviews of their tax-exempt status, a top adviser to President Obama said "GOP groups flourished" in the last two elections cycles "and they will use this to raise more money."

The tweet by David Plouffe, who left the White House in January, could give GOP reason to accuse Obama's team of playing politics with the IRS controversy by defending or justifying the agency's actions.

But Plouffe  said in a follow-up email to me that he was not absolving the Internal Revenue Service, whose actions he had called "dumb and wrong" in the original tweet.

Our exchange:

.@davidplouffe serious questions: Why is that important to note? Is it justification for the action you called wrong? If not, why note?

— Ron Fournier (@ron_fournier) May 13, 2013

Several Twitter readers quickly offered their own interpretation, including conservative columnist James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal. "Because it goes to the question of motive," Taranto tweeted. I asked Plouffe to respond via Twitter, email or my cell phone. He responded within an hour. Here is his unedited email:

"In terms of impact. Reading much of the coverage layperson would get sense premeditated attempt to effectively silence political opponents. I do think not as a justification but as an evaluation of any impact it is important to note that it would not appear their aims or fundraising were affected. So indefensible behavior by IRS clearly the story. As people are doing analysis it's a secondary point."

"So you were speaking to the impact, not justifying the actions or (providing) motive?" I asked via email.

"Exactly," Plouffe replied.

The tweet came amid calls for Obama himself to issue an apology for the targeting, and as the administration struggled to get its story straight. The agency apologized Friday for what it acknowledged was "inappropriate" flagging of conservative political groups during the 2012 election. IRS officials had previously denied the IRS was targeting conservative political groups.

The agency — led at the time by a Bush administration appointee — blamed low-level employees, saying no high-level officials were aware. In an apparent contradiction, The Associated Press reported Saturday that senior IRS officials knew agents were targeting tea party groups as early as 2011, according to a draft of an inspector general's report.