Full Text Obama Presidency May 13, 2013: President Barack Obama Addresses Benghazi Hearings & IRS Controversy at Press Conference

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Obama Addresses Benghazi and I.R.S. Controversies

Source: NYT, 5-13-13

Alex Wong/Getty Images

The president said Republicans were dishonoring the four victims of the attacks in Benghazi last fall, but said he would not tolerate I.R.S. wrongdoing….READ MORE

Source: WH, 5-13-13

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Thank you.  All right, we’ve got time for a couple of questions.  We’re going to start with Julie Pace.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  I wanted to ask about the IRS and Benghazi.  When did you first learn that the IRS was targeting conservative political groups?  Do you feel that the IRS has betrayed the public’s trust?  And what do you think the repercussions for these actions should be?  And on Benghazi, newly public emails show that the White House and the State Department appear to have been more closely involved with the crafting of the talking points on the attack than first acknowledged.  Do you think the White House misled the public about its role in shaping the talking points?  And do you stand by your administration’s assertions that the talking points were not purposely changed to downplay the prospects of terrorism?  And, Prime Minister Cameron, on Syria, if the EU arms embargo that you mentioned is amended or lapses, is it your intention to send the Syrian opposition forces weapons?  And are you encouraging President Obama to take the same step?  Thank you.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, let me take the IRS situation first.  I first learned about it from the same news reports that I think most people learned about this.  I think it was on Friday.  And this is pretty straightforward.

If, in fact, IRS personnel engaged in the kind of practices that had been reported on and were intentionally targeting conservative groups, then that’s outrageous and there’s 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’re applying it in a non-partisan way — applying the laws in a non-partisan way.

And you should feel that way regardless of party.  I don’t care whether you’re a Democrat, independent or a Republican.  At some point, there are going to be Republican administrations.  At some point, there are going to be Democratic ones.  Either way, you don’t want the IRS ever being perceived to be biased and anything less than neutral in terms of how they operate.  So this is something that I think people are properly concerned about.

The IG is conducting its investigation.  And I am not going to comment on their specific findings prematurely, but I can tell you that if you’ve got the IRS operating in anything less than a neutral and non-partisan way, then that is outrageous, it is contrary to our traditions.  And people have to be held accountable, and it’s got to be fixed.  So we’ll wait and see what exactly all the details and the facts are.  But I’ve got no patience with it.  I will not tolerate it.  And we will make sure that we find out exactly what happened on this.

With respect to Benghazi, we’ve now seen this argument that’s been made by some folks primarily up on Capitol Hill for months now.  And I’ve just got to say — here’s what we know.  Americans died in Benghazi.  What we also know is clearly they were not in a position where they were adequately protected.  The day after it happened, I acknowledged that this was an act of terrorism.  And what I pledged to the American people was that we would find out what happened, we would make sure that it did not happen again, and we would make sure that we held accountable those who had perpetrated this terrible crime.

And that’s exactly what we’ve been trying to do.  And over the last several months, there was a review board headed by two distinguished Americans — Mike Mullen and Tom Pickering — who investigated every element of this.  And what they discovered was some pretty harsh judgments in terms of how we had worked to protect consulates and embassies around the world.  They gave us a whole series of recommendations.  Those recommendations are being implemented as we speak.

The whole issue of talking points, frankly, throughout this process has been a sideshow.  What we have been very clear about throughout was that immediately after this event happened we were not clear who exactly had carried it out, how it had occurred, what the motivations were.  It happened at the same time as we had seen attacks on U.S. embassies in Cairo as a consequence of this film.  And nobody understood exactly what was taking place during the course of those first few days.

And the emails that you allude to were provided by us to congressional committees.  They reviewed them several months ago, concluded that, in fact, there was nothing afoul in terms of the process that we had used.  And suddenly, three days ago, this gets spun up as if there’s something new to the story.  There’s no “there” there.

Keep in mind, by the way, these so-called talking points that were prepared for Susan Rice five, six days after the event occurred pretty much matched the assessments that I was receiving at that time in my presidential daily briefing.  And keep in mind that two to three days after Susan Rice appeared on the Sunday shows, using these talking points, which have been the source of all this controversy, I sent up the head of our National Counterterrorism Center, Matt Olsen, up to Capitol Hill and specifically said it was an act of terrorism and that extremist elements inside of Libya had been involved in it.

So if this was some effort on our part to try to downplay what had happened or tamp it down, that would be a pretty odd thing that three days later we end up putting out all the information that, in fact, has now served as the basis for everybody recognizing that this was a terrorist attack and that it may have included elements that were planned by extremists inside of Libya.

Who executes some sort of cover-up or effort to tamp things down for three days?  So the whole thing defies logic.  And the fact that this keeps on getting churned out, frankly, has a lot to do with political motivations.  We’ve had folks who have challenged Hillary Clinton’s integrity, Susan Rice’s integrity, Mike Mullen and Tom Pickering’s integrity.  It’s a given that mine gets challenged by these same folks.  They’ve used it for fundraising.

And frankly, if anybody out there wants to actually focus on how we make sure something like this does not happen again, I am happy to get their advice and information and counsel.  But the fact of the matter is these four Americans, as I said right when it happened, were people I sent into the field, and I’ve been very clear about taking responsibility for the fact that we were not able to prevent their deaths.  And we are doing everything we can to make sure we prevent it, in part because there are still diplomats around the world who are in very dangerous, difficult situations.  And we don’t have time to be playing these kinds of political games here in Washington.  We should be focused on what are we doing to protect them.

And that’s not easy, by the way.  And it’s going to require resources and tough judgments and tough calls.  And there are a whole bunch of diplomats out there who know that they’re in harm’s way.  And there are threat streams that come through every so often, with respect to our embassies and our consulates — and that’s not just us, by the way; the British have to deal with the same thing.

And we’ve got a whole bunch of people in the State Department who consistently say, you know what, I’m willing to step up, I’m willing to put myself in harm’s way because I think that this mission is important in terms of serving the United States and advancing our interests around the globe.

And so we dishonor them when we turn things like this into a political circus.  What happened was tragic.  It was carried out by extremists inside of Libya.  We are out there trying to hunt down the folks who carried this out, and we are trying to make sure that we fix the system so that it doesn’t happen again.

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