Obama scoffs at Libya outcry, vows to act on IRS audits
Washington • President Barack Obama, facing re-energized Republican adversaries and new questions about the administration's conduct, on Monday dismissed a furor over the handling of last year's attacks in Benghazi, Libya, as a political "sideshow" but joined a bipartisan chorus of outrage over disclosures that the Internal Revenue Service had singled out conservative groups for special scrutiny.
Obama called the IRS reports "outrageous" and "contrary to our traditions," adding his voice to those of Republicans and isolating the agency as the House scheduled a hearing Friday in what is likely to be an extensive congressional review of the agency's actions.
"I've got no patience with it," Obama said during a joint news conference at the White House with Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain. "I will not tolerate it. And we will make sure that we find out exactly what happened on this."
Four months into his second term, the president was under increasing assault from Republicans who accused the administration of political bullying and a lack of transparency. Kathleen Sebelius, Obama's secretary of health and human services, has drawn criticism in recent days for soliciting corporate donations to pay for the rollout next year of the new health care law.
And on Monday evening, The Associated Press reported that the Justice Department had secretly obtained two months of telephone records of its reporters. The company's editors called it a "massive and unprecedented intrusion" into its news gathering, and Republicans quickly seized on the report.
Obama's blunt condemnation of the IRS appeared designed to head off fallout as Republicans and Democrats called for hearings and investigations into the matter. But on Benghazi, he seemed exasperated and angry to be facing a continuing barrage of accusations that he deemed recycled and partisan.
"We don't have time to be playing these kinds of political games here in Washington," Obama said, saying any inquiry should be focused on the four people who died in Libya and how to prevent future attacks. "We dishonor them when we turn things like this into a political circus."
"Suddenly, three days ago," he added, "this gets spun up as if there's something new to the story. There's no there there."
Obama's comments about the IRS left the agency and its leadership alone in answering charges that its employees had put added demands on Tea Party and other conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status from 2010 to 2012, even though none appeared to have been denied the classification.