Obama Attempts Damage Control on IRS, Benghazi, AP Scandals

 

President Barack Obama; photo by Olivier Douliery/Pool/Getty Images

President Obama makes a statement Wednesday at the White House. Photo by Olivier Douliery/Pool/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

To catch you up on the last 24 hours in politics: President Barack Obama canned the man at the helm of the Internal Revenue Service, released 100 pages of emails between intelligence analysts and State Department officials following the attacks in Benghazi, Libya, and asked a Senate Democrat to reintroduce a bill to help reporters protect the identity of their sources.

In other words: a whole lotta damage control.

“Americans are right to be angry about it, and I am angry about it,” Mr. Obama said Wednesday evening in a four-minute statement from the East Room of the White House. He was referring to the swelling scandal at the IRS, which put extra layers of scrutiny on conservative organizations seeking tax-exempt status.

“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.

Earlier in the day, Attorney General Eric Holder told members of the House Judiciary Committee that the Justice Department would conduct a full investigation into the IRS’ conduct.

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

The administration’s response came as lawmakers ramped up their demands for answers.

“My question isn’t about who’s going to resign. My question is, who is going to jail over this scandal?” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, declared at a morning news conference.

Amid the mounting pressure, Mr. Obama huddled late Wednesday with Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, who asked for and received the resignation of acting IRS commissioner Steven Miller.

“This has been an incredibly difficult time for the IRS given the events of the past few days, and there is a strong and immediate need to restore public trust in the nation’s tax agency,” Miller wrote in a memo distributed to agency employees. “I believe the Service will benefit from having a new Acting Commissioner in place during this challenging period.”

Miller said he will officially depart the IRS when his assignment ends early next month. The 25-year agency veteran is scheduled to appear Friday before the House Ways and Means Committee to answer questions about the IRS’ actions. On Tuesday, the Senate Finance Committee will get the next bite at the apple, and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will hold a hearing Wednesday.

NPR condensed the treasury inspector general’s report into “10 Things We Learned,” one of them being that the IRS sat on some applications for as long as three years and expected applicants to respond to its requests for information within three weeks.

For his part, Mr. Obama will take questions at noon Thursday during a Rose Garden event with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The NewsHour will live-stream the news conference.

On Benghazi, Mr. Obama is attempting to put to rest the evolution of talking points about whether the events on Sept. 11, 2012, were a terrorist attack — a story that has involved the press as well.

ABC News’ Jonathan Karl had a big scoop Friday, reporting the talking points had been revised 12 times over the course of a few days. But CNN’s Jake Tapper, formerly with ABC, reported Tuesday that reading the emails contradicts that report.

That’s one reason the White House aimed to let people see for themselves. The emails, already given to congressional investigators, are posted in full here.

The Washington Post’s Scott Wilson and Karen DeYoung have a helpful explainer. From the piece:

According to the e-mails and initial CIA-drafted talking points, the agency believed the attack included a mix of Islamist extremists from Ansar al-Sharia, a group affiliated with al-Qaeda, and angry demonstrators.

White House officials did not challenge that analysis, the e-mails show, nor did they object to its inclusion in the public talking points.

But CIA deputy director Michael Morell later removed the reference to Ansar al-Sharia because the assessment was still classified and because FBI officials believed that making the information public could compromise their investigation, said senior administration officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the internal debate.

Those officials said Wednesday that the e-mails capture a fairly routine conversation between agencies over how to talk about a major event.

What was most challenging in this case, senior administration officials said, was doing so within days of the attack as intelligence agencies working in a volatile environment were trying to piece together what happened.

The New York Times has more on the internal divisions the emails lay bare. Politico writes that the email chains “suggest it was the State Department that was most concerned about taking the blame for the attack.”

Then there is the matter of the Justice Department’s seizure of phone records from the Associated Press as part of an investigation into leaks about a failed terror plot last year.

Holder told lawmakers Wednesday that he had recused himself from the probe early on because he was one of the officials who had access to the information that was leaked. But he pledged to review the matter once the investigation was completed.

“I do think that at the conclusion of this matter, and when I can be back involved in it, that given the — the attention that it has generated, that some kind of after-action analysis would be appropriate,” Holder said.

The Justice Department’s decision to subpoena the records has drawn criticism from lawmakers and news organizations about the impact on 1st Amendment protections. In response, the Obama administration announced Wednesday that it would support a new media shield law that would provide greater protections to reporters seeking to keep their sources confidential.

The NewsHour’s Jeffrey Brown examined the IRS scandal Wednesday night. Watch that segment here or below:

Mr. Obama’s statement is here or below.

Watch Holder’s testimony here.

Video streaming by Ustream

HATCAM! GOES RUNNING

Strong from start to finish: Team NewsHour races at the ACLI Capital Challenge.

Wednesday morning 14 NewsHour runners hit the pavement for a three-mile race to benefit the Wounded Warrior Project.

Your Morning Line dynamic duo rounded the halfway mark side-by-side, before Terence blew past Christina to finish strong.

NewsHour’s “No Commercials, No Mercy” team* placed fourth of the 17 teams in the Electronic Media category. Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., became the fastest man in Congress, finishing three miles in 17 minutes 55 seconds. Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., were the fastest senators. Heard on the Hill has more here.

NewsHour social media editor Colleen Shalby won the bravest staffer award, wearing our HatCam! from start to finish. We’ve cut together some video highlights that you can watch here or below:

*Yes, the name is inspired by “Anchorman.”

LINE ITEMS

  • The Wall Street Journal looks at the tech sector’s involvement in shaping the immigration bill. Roll Call reports that Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, wants to be wooed on the issue.

  • As the House GOP prepares to vote for the 37th time to repeal the Affordable Care Act, a new congressional budget analysts suggests doing so would “increase the deficit by scrapping the law’s taxes, fees and spending cuts,” The Hill reports.

  • Mr. Obama met with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., on Wednesday on immigration and budget issues.

  • Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., plans to introduce legislation Thursday that would empower military prosecutors, instead of commanders, to decide whether individual sexual assault cases would be tried. Meanwhile, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., is engaing her campaign supporters through emails on the issue. Margaret Warner reported about the issue on the NewsHour.

  • A Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday found Virginia Democrat Terry McAuliffe leading GOP Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, 43 percent to 38 percent, in the state’s 2013 gubernatorial contest. But more voters say Cuccinelli has “the right kind of experience” to be governor.

  • Virginia Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, a moderate Republican who opted against challenging Cuccinelli, formed a group called the Virginia Mainstream Project.

  • House Republicans spoofed “Arrested Development” to tweak the Obama administration on the economy. Really.

  • Speaker Boehner is attempting to get his members on board with increasing the debt ceiling.

  • Sarah Palin has endorsed a candidate, state Rep. Jason Smith, ahead of Missouri’s special House election to replace former Republican Rep. Jo Ann Emerson.

  • The Denver Post reports that former GOP Rep. Tom Tancredo is considering a bid for governor next year.

  • The clues to Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman’s political aspirations lie in whom he’s talking to. The Republican governor has been consulting governors who became senators. His team expects him to make a decision about running for retiring GOP Sen. Mike Johann’s seat within a month.

  • Roll Call’s Meredith Shiner reports that the House and Senate Press Galleries are getting involved in the phone records story.

  • Was Wednesday really the best day for a personal financial document dump? The White House released documents showing the value of the Obamas’ assets is between $1.9 and $6.9 million.

NEWSHOUR ROUNDUP

TOP TWEETS

Desk assistants Mallory Sofastaii and Simone Pathe contributed to this report.

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Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.

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