Austan Goolsbee's Mysterious Tweet

Austan Goolsbee / AP

A recently deleted tweet by former Obama economic adviser Austan Goolsbee saying a 2010 misreading of a newspaper article led him to make a false statement that Koch Industries pays no corporate income taxes has brought fresh scrutiny to whether the White House illegally disclosed the confidential tax information of the Wichita, Kans., conglomerate, The Weekly Standard reports.

Given the Obama administration's strong opposition to Charles and David Koch's political giving, the story of Goolsbee has relevance in light of IRS targeting of conservative organizations and sharing of confidential tax information:

In a September 2010 Weekly Standard interview, Mark Holden, a lawyer for Koch Industries, disputed Goolsbee's claim and asked how Goolsbee came up with the idea that Koch Industries doesn't pay corporate taxes. Holden raised the question of whether someone in the Obama administration might have looked at Koch Industries' tax returns--which would be a violation of a federal law that was enacted in 1976 in response to Watergate.

The White House never formally explained how it came up with the claim, but an anonymous White House official told Ben Smith, then a reporter at Politico, that the claim was based on testimony to President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board and publicly available sources, such as Forbes magazine and Koch Industries' website. Koch lawyer Mark Holden said the White House's explanation didn't make sense: "[C]ontrary to the administration official's statement on what sources were used by the administration, neither the Koch website nor Forbes' list of private companies has information regarding Koch's tax filing status.  This is confidential information."

letter from Republican senators led to an investigation by Treasury inspector general J. Russell George. But after the investigation was completed, George wrote in an October 2011 letter to Senator Charles Grassley that, due to confidentiality provisions of the law, he could not tell Grassley if anyone had illegally accessed Koch Industries tax returns or if the inspector general had taken any actions following his investigation.

As John McCormack writes, without the IG's report, there is no way to know where the White House would have come up with their claim about Koch Industries' tax-dodging.

Then came Goolsbee's tweet:

@joerepublic1 there was no secret info on koch bros. It came fr/… but was a mistake--one of the other Koch bros.

— Austan Goolsbee (@Austan_Goolsbee) May 14, 2013

Essentially, Goolsbee said he read the St. Petersburg Times article wrong, which discusses William Koch not paying taxes to Florida, not David or Charles Koch. Adding to the strangeness was that he then deleted his tweet. McCormack:

Why? Did Goolsbee delete it simply because it was embarrassing? Or was it not true?

Koch Industries lawyer Mark Holden says the explanation is implausible. "It is hard for me to believe what Mr. Goolsbee is saying now on Twitter, after not raising it 3 years ago when this came up, and he and the White House stated his comments about Koch not paying taxes and how it structured itself for tax purposes were based on Forbes article, our website, and PERAB testimony," Holden wrote in an email to THE WEEKLY STANDARD. "As you recall, when we challenged those assertions the White House said Goolsbee was 'mistaken' and 'we (White House and Goolsbee) won’t' say this again.  Now after the TIGTA investigation is closed, he offers yet another reason – a 2003 newspaper article that doesn’t deal with Koch Industries or federal tax issues.  Very hard to believe this and makes me wonder what he really relied upon and what is in the TIGTA report."

McCormack wrote he asked Goolsbee why he cited that article when the White House had different sources at the time of the original claim. Goolsbee failed to respond.