President Obama tries to swat down 2 controversies

May 14, 2013 | By More

May 14, AP – Republicans ramped up criticism following recent disclosures that talking points on the attack in Benghazi, Libya produced by the intelligence community were later watered down to delete references to the suspected involvement Islamic militants.

human rights observers President Obama tries to swat down 2 controversies intl. news 1

President Barack Obama tried Monday to swat down a pair of brewing controversies that have put the White House on the defensive, emboldened Republican lawmakers and threatened to overtake his second-term agenda, already off to a rocky start.

The second scandal controversy involved disclosures that the U.S. tax agency, the IRS, had targeted conservative groups in the run-up to the 2012 election. Obama on Monday dismissed Republican criticism of his administration’s handling of the Benghazi attack, calling the criticism a political sideshow. The president also said that he didn’t know about the tax controversy until he learned about it from news reports last week and pledged to find out what happened.

Simultaneous investigations have put the White House on the defensive, however, with Republicans demanding more. During a joint news conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron, the normally even-keeled Obama appeared agitated over the resurgent investigation into the September attack at a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi. He dismissed the Republican-driven effort as a “sideshow” that dishonors the four Americans who were killed, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens.

“There’s no there there,” Obama declared in his first public comments since Republican lawmakers launched new hearings on the matter. “The fact that this keeps on getting churned up, frankly, has a whole lot to do with political motivations.”

Seeking to keep another controversy from spinning out of control, the president rebuked the U.S. tax collection agency for scrutinizing the tax-exempt status of groups with conservative sounding names. Those responsible, Obama said, must be held “fully accountable.”

“I’ve got no patience with it,” he added. “I will not tolerate it and we will find out exactly what happened.” The president said he first learned of the matter Friday when it was reported by news organizations. Spokesman Jay Carney said later that the White House counsel’s office was alerted on April 22 that the tax agency’s inspector general was completing a review of an office in Cincinnati.

Neither issue appears to be going away any time soon. On Monday, Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, asked authors of an independent government review into the Benghazi attack to meet privately with committee investigators. And the House Ways and Means Committee said it plans to hold a hearing on the tax matter on Friday.

The two controversies are the latest in a series of unexpected challenges that have consumed the White House since Obama began his second term in January. Among the others: the Boston Marathon bombings, Syria’s alleged use of chemical weapons and fresh nuclear provocations from North Korea.

It’s hardly the start Obama’s team envisioned after he solidly won re-election in November. The White House had hoped to achieve an early victory on immigration overhaul, make another run at a sweeping deficit reduction deal, and perhaps take a stab at tackling climate change.

But those plans were upended even before Obama’s inauguration, when the horrific December massacre of 20 school children and six adults in Newtown, Connecticut, thrust gun control to the forefront of Obama’s domestic agenda. That legislative effort failed on Capitol Hill last month, leaving Obama with a political defeat and giving critics of immigration reform more time to organize their opposition.

Obama still has an opportunity to reverse course and claim a big second-term victory if immigration changes can be approved. Draft legislation being debated in the Senate has bipartisan support, and Republicans have a political incentive to back an overhaul given the growing political power of Hispanic voters, who voted overwhelmingly Democratic in 2012.

For the White House, the challenge will be to keep Capitol Hill focused on immigration and other legislative priorities, not a persistent cycle of investigations. “The American people want Washington to focus on the issues that matter most to them,” Carney said Monday. “The imperative for getting things done still exists.”

However, Republicans made clear that they plan to keep pressing the president on both issues. “The administration continues to lose credibility by failing to answer even the simplest questions, refusing to take full responsibility and failing to produce a plan to move forward,” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus told The Associated Press. “As we learned from Watergate, concealing information from the public is a dangerous practice.”

The tax collection agency has apologized for what it said was “inappropriate” targeting of conservative political groups. The agency blamed low-level employees, saying no high-level officials were aware.

But a draft of an inspector general’s report obtained by the AP says senior officials knew agents were targeting conservative groups as early as 2011. The Treasury Department’s inspector general for tax administration is expected to release the final report this week after a yearlong investigation.

The Benghazi investigation has trailed Obama for months, with many Republicans focused on how the White House first explained the attacks to the American people. Administration officials initially said the attacks appeared to grow out of a spontaneous demonstration, though it later concluded that they were planned acts of terror.

The White House has insisted there was no effort to change the initial administration “talking points” to downplay the prospect of terrorism. But emails made public last week concerning the talking points that U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice used five days after the Sept. 11 assault showed State Department and other senior administration officials asking that references to terror groups and prior warnings be deleted.

The White House has insisted that it made only a “stylistic” change to the intelligence agency talking points which Rice used to suggest on five Sunday talk shows that demonstrations over an anti-Islamic video devolved into the Benghazi attack.

Associated press writer for human rights observers – contributed to this report.

 

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Category: International

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