President Obama pushed back harshly against questions Monday about the administration’s handling of the Benghazi attack narrative and the developing Internal Revenue Service targeting scandal.
Obama publicly condemned the alleged activity of IRS agents who flagged organizations filing for tax-exempt status for further review based on political or ideological grounds in his first comments on the matter.
“If, in fact, IRS personnel engaged in the kind of practices that have been reported on and were intentionally targeting conservative groups,” Obama said, “then that is outrageous, and there is no place for it, and they have to be held fully accountable, because the IRS as an independent agency requires absolute integrity and people have to have confidence that they are applying the laws in a non-partisan way. You should feel that way regardless of party.”
“But I have got no patience with it, I will not tolerate it, and we will make sure that we find out exactly what happened on this,” he said.
Conservative organizations were flagged internally by the IRS if the groups included “Tea Party” or “patriots” in their applications, listed issues including government spending or tax policy, said they engaged in lobbying to “make America a better place to live,” or included statements that criticized how the government is being run.
A full report from the Treasury inspector general is expected to be released this week.
Obama also defended his administration’s approach to Benghazi, despite reports in the last week that White House and State Department officials revised 12 times the talking points delivered to Ambassador Susan Rice.
“We dishonor (those who died in Benghazi) when we turn things like this into a political circus,” Obama said Monday during the joint press conference with United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron. “The whole issue of talking points, throughout this process, frankly, has been a sideshow. … There’s no there there.”
The revisions to the talking points included the removal of key references to prior attacks on the compound that, in the words of State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, “could be abused by members [of Congress] to beat up the State Department for not paying attention to warnings.”