At the tail end of his daily press conference, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs was asked by far the most provocative question of the day: why tax-evasion problems landed actor Wesley Snipes in jail but seem inconsequential to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner?
"Is the president asking the IRS to be more lenient to all Americans in the future, when they say 'I didn't know but I am sorry?' a reporter asked as Gibbs was leaving the podium. The journalist said somewhat sarcastically that she wondered whether Snipes -- had he been in the Treasury instead of Hollywood -- might not have ended up behind bars.
"These are the questions that can certainly get me in trouble," Gibbs replied, to laughter. "Secretary-designate Geithner -- who I believe in a few hours we will be able to call Secretary Geithner because of a strong bipartisan vote in the Senate -- admitted that he made honest mistakes that clearly should have been avoided. He made amends by paying the back-taxes... the president also believes that he has a unique experience, unique intelligence, a unique background to tackle the economic crises that we face right now as a country. That he will be a tremendous leader for our economic team and somebody that I think Americans will value having on their side as we turn this economy around."
Noticeably absent from the answer was any reference to Snipes, which would have surely dominated the post-conference coverage.
Hours after Gibbs spoke, the Senate took up (and seems poised to pass) Geithner's nomination. In White Houses past, revelations about a failure to pay taxes on income earned would have been a political killer. But Obama -- whether because of his own popularity or the dire economic climate -- is being granted significant leeway. The Snipes question was one of only a few Geithner queries posed to Gibbs during the new president's first few days in office.