President Barack Obama is in New York among high-paying friends, but issues surrounding him in Washington are not at all far. Specifically, the president on Monday responded to questions of whether or not his administration intentionally tried to depict the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya as being something other than an act of terror. Specifically, if the Obama Administration repeatedly revised talking points for the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice, to use, that eliminated any mention of terrorism in referring to the Benghazi attack.
“I would call it a cover up,” said Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) on ABC’s This Week on Sunday. “A cover up in the extent that there was a willful removal of information, which was obvious.”
But the facts appear to tell a different, much more nuanced story. While the terrorist group Ansar al Sharia immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, the Obama Administration did not depict it as such until the day after. On September 12, 2012, President Obama referred to the consulate shooting and bombing as an “act of terror.” He did not wait for days or weeks, as leaders in the Republican Party have claimed.
Also, disclosures provided by the White House indicate that the talking points for Ambassador Rice were revised a dozen times. That many revisions is not necessarily unusual. However, when the revisions were complete, there were no references to terror left in the narrative.
Some documents related to the attack remain classified. GOP lawmakers have called for them to be declassified for the public’s review.
Many of those same lawmakers, who have criticized the terror attack, also successfully led an effort to cut funding for security at U.S. embassies and consulates worldwide.
“The focus should be on making sure that diplomats are not left without sufficient protection in the future,” President Obama said during a news conference at the White House Monday with British Prime Minister David Cameron. “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,” said the president.
He attempted to dismiss the issue that GOP leaders have brought up, months after receiving internal emails from his administration showing how Ambassador Rice was being prepared to talk about the September 11, 2012 attack. “The whole issue of talking points has been a sideshow,” the president said.
By contrast, the president said another issue being discussed intensely in Washington should be taken very seriously. The head of a division of the Internal Revenue Service apologized to Tea Party members as well as members of other conservative groups after admitting that her agency targeted those organizations for audits between 2010 and 2012.
Lois Lerner was a Bush appointee, who last week apologized for IRS workers in the agency’s Cincinnati office searching tax records for phrases including “Tea Party” and “Patriot” in order to monitor the tax exempt status of organizations using those phrases in their tax filings.
A further review of IRS documents showed that the agency workers’ searches also included groups whose publications included the phrases “Take Back America” and “make America a better place to live.”
Regarding this IRS issue, the president was quick to point out at the news conference on Monday that the Internal Revenue Service is independent of the presidential administration. However, he also called the IRS situation “outrageous.”
“I’ve got no patience for it,” he said. “I will not tolerate it.” President Obama called for anyone responsible for the probes of conservative groups to be held accountable.
Many in both the GOP and Democratic Party are also calling for further action to be taken against people responsible for this growing scandal. Some Republican leaders feel some of that scrutiny needs to be placed closer to the Oval Office.
What is clear is that while the president feels the IRS situation is “outrageous,” and the Benghazi talking points issue is “a sideshow,” neither is likely to fade from discourse in Washington any time soon.
In fact, they may follow the president into the 2014 midterm elections. He was in Manhattan Monday afternoon and evening to raise millions for the Democratic National Committee at three different fundraising events. The issues that he had to respond to in Washington Monday are strong indications that the Democrats in general, and the president in particular, may be in for a tough and contentious road ahead.