Reporters turned President Obama‘s Thursday press conference with Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, into a round-robin of questioning about the scandals plaguing the White House, from the illegal targeting of tea party and other conservative groups by the IRS to feud between the Associated Press and the Department of Justice over seized phone records.
After the president announced that a “new high-level” committee would be formed to focus on further expanding economic ties between the United States and Turkey, the unfettered press was ready to pounce. Bloomberg News got the first question, addressing the IRS scandal.
“My main concern is fixing the problem,” Obama answered. We began that process yesterday. “We will be putting in new leadership.”
Questioned about the inspector general’s report about the IRS and the White House’s role in the scandal, the president denied knowledge of abuses at the agency: “I can assure you that I did not know anything about the IG report before the IG report was leaked to the press.”
He avoided answering the initial question about his position on appointing a Special Prosecutor to investigate, but indicated that he believes existing investigations are sufficient.
“I think it’s going to be sufficient for us to work with Congress — they’ve got a bunch of committees,” Obama said. “Attorney General Holder announced a criminal investigation of what happened.”
Turning to the AP phone records investigation before the Justice Department, the President brushed off Watergate comparisons.
“I’m not going to comment on a specific and pending case. I can talk broadly [though]. Leaks related to national security can put people at risk,” Obama firmly asserted. The President focused on balance focusing on national security, preventing leaks that concern security, and the freedom of the press.
Obama cautioned, “We still don’t know all the details.” The President welcomed what he called “renewed interest” in a press shield law, but again cautioned the press that its fate shouldn’t be tied to the investigation at the Justice Department without knowing all the details.
Syria also came up, with Obama calling for President Bashar al-Assad to step down and commending Turkey for its support in assisting refugees from the country that has been through a two-year civil war. The President also brought up Benghazi, promising to beef-up efforts so that diplomats would be protected in the future and that security forces could be ready in a similar crisis.