President Barack Obama tried to swat down a pair of brewing controversies Monday, denouncing as “outrageous” the targeting of conservative political groups by the federal IRS but angrily denying any administration cover-up after last year’s deadly attacks in Benghazi, Libya.
Simultaneous investigations — and demands by Republicans for more — have put the White House on the defensive, emboldened GOP lawmakers and threatened to overtake a second-term Obama agenda already off to a rocky start.
During a joint news conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron, 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 GOP lawmakers launched new hearings. “The fact that this keeps on getting churned up, has a whole lot to do with political motivations.”
Seeking to keep another controversy from spinning out of control, the president rebuked the IRS for scrutinizing the tax-exempt status of groups with conservative titles such as “tea party” or “Patriot” in their 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 April 22 that the IRS inspector general was completing a review of an IRS office in Cincinnati.
Neither issue appears to be going away any time soon. On Monday, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., 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 IRS matter 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 purported use of chemical weapons and fresh nuclear provocations from North Korea.