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May 20th, 2013

Obama Administration Faces Mounting Criticism

Over the past month President Barack Obama and his administration have been on damage control after Republicans and Democrats alike are demanding answers to several high-profile incidences of apparent U.S. government overreach.

 President Barack Obama makes a statement on the situation regarding the IRS in the East Room of the White House.

President Barack Obama makes a statement on the situation regarding the IRS in the East Room of the White House.

House Republicans are trying to dig into what they claim was a government cover-up of the attacks against an American consulate in Libya that killed four Americans.

To add fuel to the fire, it was revealed the Justice Department secretly obtained the phone records of Associated Press (AP) journalists and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) admitted it applied extra scrutiny to conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.

Seized AP records raise First Amendment concerns

Attorney General Eric Holder answers questions at the Justice Department

Attorney General Eric Holder answers questions at the Justice Department

The Justice Department has come under fire for seizing AP phone records as part of an investigation into a leak regarding a failed terror plot last year. However, those on both the left and the right are calling the move and act of press intimidation.

“The media’s purpose is to keep the public informed and it should be free to do so without the threat of unwarranted surveillance,” said Laura Murphy, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) Washington Office, in a statement. “The Attorney General must explain the Justice Department’s actions to the public so that we can make sure this kind of press intimidation does not happen again.”

The Justice Department’s decision to subpoena the records has drawn further criticism from lawmakers and news organizations about the impact on 1st Amendment protections. The department said that the leak constituted a danger to the American people, which justified the seizure.

In response, the Obama administration announced that it would support a new media shield law that would provide greater protections to reporters seeking to keep their sources confidential.

IRS discriminated against conservative groups

But while the Justice Department continues to take heat over the AP, they will also be investigating wrongdoing on the part of the IRS, who admitted to targeting conservative organizations seeking tax-exempt status.

“Americans are right to be angry about it, and I am angry about it,” the president said Wednesday evening in a four-minute statement from the East Room of the White House.

“I will not tolerate this kind of behavior in any agency, but especially in the IRS, given the power that it has and the reach that it has into all of our lives,” he said.

The IRS targeted organizations with names that included words like “Tea Party” or “patriot”, then subjected them to more scrutiny than their peers during the tax-exempt application process.

“The facts will take us wherever they take us,” said Attorney General Eric Holder. “This will not be about parties. This will not be about ideological persuasions. Anyone who has broken the law will be held accountable.”

House Republicans dig deeper into Benghazi

On Sept. 11, 2012, a heavily armed militant group attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, killing the U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens, a Foreign Service officer and two security personnel.

Critics of the administration, led by Republican Representative Darrell Issa of California, say the president perpetrated a cover-up by downplaying the role of terrorism in the attack, instead blaming it on protesters demonstrating against a video called “Innocence of Muslims”. They also accuse the State Department, and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in particular, of denying the Benghazi consulate the proper protection that would have guarded against the assault.

For its part, the administration says that there was confusion in the initial reports from the CIA, and there was no deliberate attempt to conceal the truth. Mr. Obama has accused Republicans of playing politics with the hearings over the attacks, saying the hearings are a “sideshow driven by politics.”

Public and private hearings over the investigation are ongoing.

– Compiled by Allison McCartney for NewsHour Extra

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