It has been a rough week for President Barack Obama and the White House, with several scandals all breaking within a span of a few days. The Internal Revenue Service is accused of improperly targeting conservative groups, the Justice Department secretly collected reporter phone records from the Associated Press and Republicans continue to press for more information on last year's terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya.
This trifecta of drama threatens to overwhelm the president. Press Secretary Jay Carney faced a tough series of questions Tuesday, as reporters looked for answers into what knowledge, if any, Obama had of the actions taken by the IRS and the Justice Department. Carney attempted to triage the situations:
I think you have to separate these issues, and I think if you look at the answers the President gave yesterday in response to questions, on one hand, about the clear political circus that Benghazi has become and his response to questions about the reports of activity by the IRS, I think you see something different. He made clear that if the reports about the activity of IRS personnel proved to be true, he would find them outrageous, and he would expect appropriate action be taken and that people be held responsible.
Carney also said the administration has no information on the Department of Justice subpoena of AP reporters's phone calls in association with an investigation into a possible government leak regarding a foiled bomb plot in Yemen. He said because the Department of Justice is conducting a criminal investigation it would be "wholly inappropriate" for the White House to have more information:
And as I said yesterday in my statement, other than press reports we have no knowledge of any attempt by the Justice Department to seek phone records of the Associated Press. We are not involved at the White House in any decisions made in connection with ongoing criminal investigations, as those matters are handled, appropriately, by the Justice Department independently.
The press, long accused of being too soft on Obama, is digging in and searching for answers into what really happened at the IRS and Department of Justice, and how high up the innappropriate conduct went. The second-term scandals may also damage Obama's legacy by preventing him from pursuing his agenda, writes the Washington Post's Jena McGregor:
[A]nother leadership challenge the president faces as a result of these scandals is far bigger than how he'll navigate lame-duck politics, manage crisis communications, or appear decisive and in charge. It's how he'll get anything done.
Unless these brewing quandaries are dealt with swiftly, each could consume the president and his administration at least for the remainder of the year, if not longer. They will be distracting enough to Congress (a Politico report says roughly one-third of House committees are investigating the White House in some manner) and, of course, to the White House that the president's agenda could easily get lost in the mess. If the attention to these issues gets out of hand, little progress is likely to take place on addressing the economy, unemployment, immigration reform, the deficit or any other of the president's many competing priorities.
What do you think? Will the IRS, AP, and Benghazi scandals hurt Obama politically? Take the poll and comment below.
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