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Obama Answers Questions on Benghazi Attack, IRS Scandal

President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron speak to reporters in a joint press conference Monday at the White House.

Updated 12:45 p.m. EDT: Video from the press conference added to the post. See the original story below. The Morning Line

There are two topics on the minds of White House reporters heading into Monday’s joint news conference with President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron, and neither has to do with U.S.-U.K. relations.

The 11:15 a.m. ET session in the Rose Garden will instead be consumed by questions regarding the targeting of conservative groups by the Internal Revenue Service and the Obama administration’s handling of last year’s attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya.

It will provide the first opportunity for Mr. Obama to directly address the actions of the IRS, which singled out for extra scrutiny groups with “tea party” or “patriots” in their names that applied for tax-exempt status. Since the news first broke on Friday there has been a steady flow of new information that has come to light, further adding to criticism of the IRS’s conduct.

The Associated Press reported Saturday that senior officials at the IRS knew agents were targeting tea party groups as early as 2011, according to a report from the Treasury Department’s inspector general for tax administration.

The Wall Street Journal’s John McKinnon and Siobhan Hughes wrote Sunday that the inspector general’s probe uncovered that the IRS also had expanded its analysis to groups “worried about government spending, debt or taxes, and even ones that lobbied to ‘make America a better place to live.'”

McKinnon and Hughes note:

The inspector general’s office has been conducting an audit of the IRS’s handling of the applications process and is expected to release a report this week. The audit follows complaints last year by numerous tea-party and other conservative groups that they had been singled out and subjected to excessive and inappropriate questioning. Many groups say they were asked for lists of their donors and other sensitive information.

On Sunday, a government official said the report will note that IRS officials told investigators that no one outside the IRS was involved in developing the criteria the agency now acknowledges were flawed.

On Friday, White House press secretary Jay Carney called the actions “inappropriate” and said they deserved to be “thoroughly investigated.” But by Sunday, Republican lawmakers were demanding Mr. Obama personally get involved with the matter.

“It is absolutely chilling that the IRS was singling out conservative groups for extra review. And I think that it’s very disappointing that the president hasn’t personally condemned this and spoken out,” Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said during an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“The president needs to make crystal clear that this is totally unacceptable in America,” she added.

At the same time, Mr. Obama is confronted with mounting questions from congressional Republicans about his administration’s response to the assaults on U.S. diplomatic compounds in Benghazi, Libya, which left four Americans dead, including U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.

An ABC News report last Friday showed the State Department edited the talking points prepared by the CIA for use in the days following the attacks. Carney on Friday said changes proposed by the White House were “extremely minimal and non-substantive.”

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., took aim at that claim Sunday on ABC News’ “This Week.” “For the president’s spokesman to say, that, ‘Well, there was only words or technical changes made in those emails’ is a flat-out untruth,” McCain said. “That’s just not acceptable.”

McCain also said described the administration’s handling of the Benghazi attacks as a “cover up.”

“I’d call it a cover-up,” McCain said. “I would call it a cover-up in the extent that there was willful removal of information which was obvious.”

McCain said he did not agree with Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., who suggested Benghazi is an “impeachable” offense in an interview on conservative talk radio.

What remains to be seen is how much the dual controversies will hamper Mr. Obama’s attempts to court Republican members of Congress on policy goals, such as immigration reform and long-term deficit reduction, for his second-term agenda.

LINE ITEMS

  • The BBC highlights two of the issues U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron will likely address on his U.S. visit: Syria and an EU trade deal.

  • Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., went to Iowa and is courting support from social conservatives, especially evangelicals.

  • NewsHour deputy politics editor Terence Burlij crafts this detailed primer of early 2016 action.

  • Reuters has a long profile of Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and his unlikely alliance with Internet advocates.

  • A new poll of the Massachusetts Senate special election conducted for Republican nominee Gabriel Gomez’s campaign finds Democratic Rep. Ed Markey ahead by just three points. Other polls also have shown a close race.

  • On Bloomberg Government’s Capitol Gains show, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., gives immigration reform a 70 percent chance of passing the House. “I think the Senate’s going to pass the bill. I think there’s bipartisan support for that bill. And when it comes here, I’m hopeful that we will put it on the floor, and I think it can pass. I’d give it 70 percent,” he says.

  • Amy Walter asks for the Cook Political Report if Republicans can unlock the vote in Pennsylvania in 2016.

  • Hosting a lunch for the spouses at the National Governors Association gathering last summer, Virginia GOP Gov. Bob McDonnell’s wife distributed goodie bags with Anatabloc, the dietary supplement manufactured by Star Scientific, whose CEO Jonnie Williams is a major McDonnell campaign donor and gift-giver. The company’s ties to McDonnell have prompted questions about the governor’s political ethics in recent weeks.

  • Virginia Republicans are ready to finalize their candidates at the state convention in Richmond this weekend. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a possible 2016 hopeful, will speak.

  • Virginia GOP Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli debuts his second television ad Monday in which he promotes the plan he announced last week to cut corporate and individual income tax rates.

  • Jason Richwine, the co-author of a controversial Heritage Foundation report critical of the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform bill, resigned Friday. The move came after the senior policy analyst had come under scrutiny for writing in a 2009 doctoral dissertation that immigrants had lower IQs than white Americans.

  • New Jersey GOP Gov. Chris Christie is set to air his first negative attack ad Monday. The spot, part of an $800,000 buy, ties Democratic State Sen. Barbara Buono to former Gov. Jon Corzine.

  • Outgoing Boston Mayor Tom Menino offers a few compliments — but no endorsement yet — on the city’s 24 mayoral candidates.

  • Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld publishes a Wall Street Journal piece advising business leaders how best to hold meetings. It’s adapted from his new book, “Rumsfeld’s Rules: Leadership Lessons in Business, Politics, War, and Life.”

  • Roll Call’s Neda Semnani writes this beautiful piece for “The Week” about losing her mother and the evolution of grief.

  • Public Policy Polling finds that party divides apparently extend to voters’ favorite Beatle: Republicans like Paul McCartney and Democrats like John Lennon.

  • This happened. Just asking: Is it still considered a flash mob if everyone is off rhythm?

  • You can buy your tickets now for the June 26 Congressional Softball Game, the Bad News Babes versus female members of Congress.

NEWSHOUR ROUNDUP

  • Mark Shields and Michael Gerson talk about immigration and Benghazi, and don’t miss Mark’s take on Rep.-elect Mark Sanford.

Watch here or below.

  • NewsHour’s science team covers the forensic evidence used in the genocide trial of José Efraín Ríos Montt in Guatemala. A court found Ríos Montt guilty Friday.

  • Financial adviser Zvi Bodie outlines the benefits of buying U.S. Treasury Series I Saving Bonds on the NewsHour’s Making Sense page.

  • How did Watergate affect you? Let us know ahead of our Friday night special looking back at the scandal that changed American politics and made the NewsHour what it is today. And don’t miss the special Newseum event with Judy Woodruff, Jim Lehrer and Robert MacNeil.

TOP TWEETS

Christina Bellantoni and desk assistant 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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