Obama tries to swat down 2 swirling controversies

During a joint news conference with visiting British Prime Minister David Cameron, an agitatted President Barack Obama defends his administration’s actions after the wake of the attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, last year. On reports that Internal Revenue Service targeted conservative groups, Obama said it was “outrageous” and anyone involved needs to be “held fully accountable.”

During a joint news conference with visiting British Prime Minister David Cameron, an agitatted President Barack Obama defends his administration’s actions after the wake of the attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, last year. On reports that Internal Revenue Service targeted conservative groups, Obama said it was “outrageous” and anyone involved needs to be “held fully accountable.” Photo by The Associated Press.

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama tried to swat down a pair of brewing controversies Monday, denouncing as “outrageous” the targeting of conservative political groups by the federal IRS but angrily denying any administration cover-up after last year’s deadly attacks in Benghazi, Libya.

Simultaneous investigations — and demands by Republicans for more — have put the White House on the defensive, emboldened GOP lawmakers and threatened to overtake a second-term Obama agenda already off to a rocky start.

During a joint news conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron, the normally even-keeled Obama appeared agitated over the resurgent investigation into the September attack at a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi. He dismissed the Republican-driven effort as a “sideshow” that dishonors the four Americans who were killed, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens.

“There’s no there there,” Obama declared in his first public comments since GOP lawmakers launched new hearings on the matter. “The fact that this keeps on getting churned up, frankly, has a whole lot to do with political motivations.”

Seeking to keep another controversy from spinning out of control, the president rebuked the IRS for scrutinizing the tax-exempt status of groups with conservative titles such as “Tea Party” or “Patriot” in their names. Those responsible, Obama said, must be held “fully accountable.”

“I’ve got no patience with it,” he added. “I will not tolerate it and we will find out exactly what happened.”

The president said he first learned of the matter Friday when it was reported by news organizations. Spokesman Jay Carney said later that the White House counsel’s office was alerted on April 22 that the IRS inspector general was completing a review of an IRS office in Cincinnati.

Neither issue appears to be going away any time soon. On Monday, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, asked authors of an independent government review into the Benghazi attack to meet privately with committee investigators. And the House Ways and Means Committee said it plans to hold a hearing on the IRS matter on Friday.

The two controversies are the latest in a series of unexpected challenges that have consumed the White House since Obama began his second term in January. Among the others: the Boston Marathon bombings, Syria’s alleged use of chemical weapons and fresh nuclear provocations from North Korea.

However, Republicans made clear that they plan to keep pressing the president on both Benghazi and the IRS.

“The administration continues to lose credibility by failing to answer even the simplest questions, refusing to take full responsibility and failing to produce a plan to move forward,” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus told The Associated Press. “As we learned from Watergate, concealing information from the public is a dangerous practice.”

The Benghazi investigation has trailed Obama for months, with many Republicans focused on how the White House first explained the attacks to the American people. Administration officials initially said the attacks appeared to grow out of a spontaneous demonstration, though it later concluded that they were planned acts of terror.

The White House has insisted there was no effort to change the initial administration “talking points” to downplay the prospect of terrorism.

But emails made public last week concerning the talking points that U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice used five days after the Sept. 11 assault showed State Department and other senior administration officials asking that references to terror groups and prior warnings be deleted.

The White House has insisted that it made only a “stylistic” change to the intelligence agency talking points which Rice used to suggest on five Sunday talk shows that demonstrations over an anti-Islamic video devolved into the Benghazi attack.

On Monday, Obama said the focus should be on making sure that diplomats serving around the world are adequately protected, which he acknowledged was not the case in Benghazi.

“If anybody out there wants to actually focus on how we make sure something like this doesn’t happen again, I’m happy to get their advice and counsel,” he said.

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