May 16, 2013

Obama addresses trio of controversies

The president calls on Congress to provide more money for the security of diplomatic missions and vows to make sure the IRS does its job 'without a hint of bias.'

The Associated Press

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President Barack Obama looks to see if it is still raining as a Marine holds an umbrella for him during his joint news conference with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, not pictured, on Thursday at the White House.

AP

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"If Obama really learned about the latest IRS and AP secret subpoena scandals in the news, who exactly is running the ship at the White House?" Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski said.

And, in a worrisome sign for the White House, some Democrats also criticized the president for not being more aggressive in responding to trouble within the government.

Robert Gibbs, Obama's former White House press secretary, said the president should have appointed a bipartisan commission of former IRS officials to look into the issue of targeting political organizations. And Gibbs gently chided his former boss for using passive language when he first addressed the political targeting during a White House news conference Monday.

"I think they would have a much better way of talking about this story rather than simply kind of landing on the, 'Well, if this happened, then we'll look at it'," Gibbs said on MSNBC.

The fresh pair of controversies coincided with a resurgence in the GOP-led investigation into the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks on a U.S. compound in Benghazi that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans.

Congressional Republicans launched another round of hearings on the attacks last week. And on Friday, a congressional official disclosed details of emails among administration officials that resulted in talking points, used to publicly discuss the deadly incident, being revised to downplay the prospect that the attacks were an act of terror.

Obama aides insisted the emails were either taken out of context or provided no new information, but they resisted pressure to make the emails public for five days before finally disclosing them to reporters Wednesday. The emails revealed that then-CIA Director David Petraeus disagreed with the final talking points, despite the White House's insistence that the intelligence agency had final say over the statements.

The White House has publicly defended its handling of the controversies. Obama spokesman Jay Carney has insisted it would be "wholly inappropriate" for the president, in the case of the Justice Department matter, to weigh in on an active investigation, and in the case of the IRS controversy, to insert himself in the actions of an independent agency.

However, legal scholar Jonathan Turley disputed those assertions, saying there is no legal reason a president would be precluded from learning about the investigations before the public did or from commenting on them, at least broadly.

"These comments treat the president like he's the bubble boy," said Turley, a law professor at George Washington University.

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