Obama to Face Questions on Benghazi Attack, IRS Scandal
President Obama is set to speak to reporters Monday at the White House. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.
There are two topics on the minds of White House reporters heading into Monday's joint news conference with President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron, and neither has to do with U.S.-U.K. relations.
The 11:15 a.m. ET session in the Rose Garden will instead be consumed by questions regarding the targeting of conservative groups by the Internal Revenue Service and the Obama administration's handling of last year's attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya.
It will provide the first opportunity for Mr. Obama to directly address the actions of the IRS, which singled out for extra scrutiny groups with "tea party" or "patriots" in their names that applied for tax-exempt status. Since the news first broke on Friday there has been a steady flow of new information that has come to light, further adding to criticism of the IRS's conduct.
The Associated Press reported Saturday that senior officials at the IRS knew agents were targeting tea party groups as early as 2011, according to a report from the Treasury Department's inspector general for tax administration.
The Wall Street Journal's John McKinnon and Siobhan Hughes wrote Sunday that the inspector general's probe uncovered that the IRS also had expanded its analysis to groups "worried about government spending, debt or taxes, and even ones that lobbied to 'make America a better place to live.'"
McKinnon and Hughes note:
The inspector general's office has been conducting an audit of the IRS's handling of the applications process and is expected to release a report this week. The audit follows complaints last year by numerous tea-party and other conservative groups that they had been singled out and subjected to excessive and inappropriate questioning. Many groups say they were asked for lists of their donors and other sensitive information.
On Sunday, a government official said the report will note that IRS officials told investigators that no one outside the IRS was involved in developing the criteria the agency now acknowledges were flawed.
On Friday, White House press secretary Jay Carney called the actions "inappropriate" and said they deserved to be "thoroughly investigated." But by Sunday, Republican lawmakers were demanding Mr. Obama personally get involved with the matter.
"It is absolutely chilling that the IRS was singling out conservative groups for extra review. And I think that it's very disappointing that the president hasn't personally condemned this and spoken out," Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said during an appearance on CNN's "State of the Union."
"The president needs to make crystal clear that this is totally unacceptable in America," she added.
At the same time, Mr. Obama is confronted with mounting questions from congressional Republicans about his administration's response to the assaults on U.S. diplomatic compounds in Benghazi, Libya, which left four Americans dead, including U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.
An ABC News report last Friday showed the State Department edited the talking points prepared by the CIA for use in the days following the attacks. Carney on Friday said changes proposed by the White House were "extremely minimal and non-substantive."
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., took aim at that claim Sunday on ABC News' "This Week." "For the president's spokesman to say, that, 'Well, there was only words or technical changes made in those emails' is a flat-out untruth," McCain said. "That's just not acceptable."
McCain also said described the administration's handling of the Benghazi attacks as a "cover up."
"I'd call it a cover-up," McCain said. "I would call it a cover-up in the extent that there was willful removal of information which was obvious."
McCain said he did not agree with Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., who suggested Benghazi is an "impeachable" offense in an interview on conservative talk radio.
What remains to be seen is how much the dual controversies will hamper Mr. Obama's attempts to court Republican members of Congress on policy goals, such as immigration reform and long-term deficit reduction, for his second-term agenda.
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Today 1607, British settlers arrived at Jamestown, Virginia: twitter.com/BeschlossDC/st...— Michael Beschloss (@BeschlossDC) May 13, 2013
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Christina Bellantoni and desk assistant Simone Pathe contributed to this report.
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