The president pledges to fix IRS problem and expresses "complete confidence" in Attorney General Eric Holder.
It's been the kind of week that President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder will look back on — preferably from the porch of an Oak Bluffs vacation house during cocktail hour — and toast their ability to survive it intact.
For now, however, it's all about taking control of the narrative on controversies that threatened to derail the rest of each man's time in office, and minimize the damage.
On the IRS, the president reiterated his earlier claim that he was unaware that the agency was politically targeting conservative groups until hearing about it last Friday in news reports. As soon as he did, he said, his focus was on fixing the problem.
"It doesn't matter whether you're a Democrat or a Republican; you should be equally outraged at even the prospect that the IRS might not be acting with the kind of complete neutrality that we expect," Obama said as a soft rain fell on him and Turkish Prime Minister Tayipp Erdogan in the Rose Garden. "And I think we're going to be able to fix it. We're going to be able to get there and get it done, and we've already begun that process, and we're going to keep on going until it's finished."
The president endorsed the Justice Department's criminal investigation into the matter that Holder previously announced, but ruled out the need for a special counsel to conduct an independent investigation.
Between DOJ and congressional committee investigations, he added, "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."
The news that the Justice Department had secretly obtained the phone records of Associated Press journalists has invited comparisons to former President Richard Nixon and Watergate. Asked about those comparisons, Obama offered a wry smile and told reporters "to read the history" and "draw your own conclusions."
As White House spokesman Jay Carney attempted to do earlier this week, the president explained his belief that a balance must be struck between ensuring the nation's safety and the free flow of information. Leaks related to national security, he noted, can endanger American lives, including members of the military and intelligence officers working overseas.
"So I make no apologies, and I don't think the American people would expect me, as commander in chief, not to be concerned about information that might compromise their mistakes or get them killed," Obama said.
The president also offered support for Holder, who on Wednesday spent hours being grilled by members of the House Judiciary Committee.
"I have complete confidence in Eric Holder as attorney general," the president said. "He's an outstanding attorney general and does his job with integrity, and I expect he will continue to do so."
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