By Justin Sink - 05/16/13 05:50 PM EDT
President Obama flatly declared Thursday he was unaware of the Internal Revenue Service's targeting of politically conservative groups.
"I can assure you that I certainly did not know anything about the IG report before the IG report had been leaked through press," Obama said at a soggy Rose Garden press conference where he sought to battle back against a trio of controversies dogging his administration.
The president did not directly say whether anyone at the White House knew about the IRS's actions, though White House press secretary Jay Carney did offer this assurance earlier this week.
"Typically, the IG reports are not supposed to be widely distributed or shared. They tend to be, you know, a process that everybody's trying to protect the integrity of," Obama said. "But, what I'm absolutely certain of is that the actions that were described in that IG report are unacceptable."
A day after demanding the resignation of the agency’s acting leader, Obama declared his “main concern” was to fix the IRS problem.
“I promise you this,” Obama said. “The minute I found out about it, my main focus was making sure we get the thing fixed.”
The White House’s effort to get on top of the IRS controversy continued Thursday with the announcement Obama would name a new acting IRS commissioner by the end of the week. He accepted the resignation of the last acting commissioner, Steven Miller, on Wednesday.
He also downplayed calls for the appointment of a special counsel to look into the targeting, saying a Department of Justice investigation and congressional panels would be "sufficient."
"Between those investigations, I think we're going to be able to figure out exactly what happened, who was involved, what went wrong, and we're going to be able to implement steps to fix it," Obama said.
But Republicans on Capitol Hill continue to suggest that the scandal's reach extends further through the government. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who earlier in the week said he expected individuals to "go to jail" over the incident, made clear he doubted IRS employees decided to target conservative groups of their own volition.
“Somebody made a decision to do this, and I doubt it was some low-level employees in the Cincinnati field office,” he said.
But at the White House, Obama appeared eager to assert his leadership and restore confidence in his administration during a joint press conference with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
The weather didn't cooperate with the White House's plan. As he prepared to answer questions, Obama had to ask two Marines to give he and Erdogan cover from the rain. The showers eventually passed.
At the press conference's opening, Obama offered comments on the Benghazi attack, another controversy inflicting political pain on the White House.
Obama sought to pivot that story to the need for diplomatic security, saying he was “intent on making sure we do everything we can to prevent another tragedy” like the terrorist attack that killed four Americans in Benghazi, Libya.
He said he had “directed the Defense Department to ensure our military can respond lightning-quick” at points of crisis, and called on Congress to “fully fund” a budget request to increase security at embassies and diplomatic outposts around the world.
"I want to say to members of Congress in both parties, we need to come together and truly honor the sacrifices of those four courageous Americans and better secure our diplomatic posts around the world," Obama said.
Republican leaders on Capitol Hill have already pledged further investigation into the development of the talking points. Thomas Pickering, the chairman of the review board that first investigated the attack, sent a letter to Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) saying he would only testify in public after the House Oversight Committee chairman had “taken liberal license to call into question the Board’s work."
Meanwhile, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) told Fox News on Thursday he wanted to bring former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Capitol Hill to testify again. Paul said emails released by the administration suggest she may have played a role in the development of the Benghazi talking points.
On the Justice Department’s subpoenaing of Associated Press reporter phone records, Obama made “no apologies” based on the facts at hand, saying he had to balance a free press with national security.
"I don't think the American people would expect me, as commander in chief, not to be concerned about information that might compromise their missions or might get them killed," Obama said.
Obama proclaimed “complete confidence” in Attorney General Eric Holder, who was grilled by lawmakers Wednesday on Capitol Hill about the investigation, from which Holder has recused himself.
“He's an outstanding attorney general,” Obama said.