At Tuesday’s White House press briefing a reporter asked, “President Obama has been compared to President Nixon. How does he feel about that?”
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said he did not have a reaction from the president to relay on that matter, but also dismissed the premise of the question.
“I can tell you, people who make those kinds of comparisons need to check their history,” Carney said. “Because what we have here with one issue, Benghazi, clearly we’re learning more and more is a political sideshow, a deliberate effort to politicize a tragedy. The president feels very strongly about that. You heard him address that yesterday.”
Last week, career State Department officials told Congress that their supervisors were not forthcoming about the cause of the attack in Benghazi, and also questioned the department’s internal investigation by the Accountability Review Board. Also, ABC News reported that the talking points for Benghazi were edited 12 times to scrub out mention of a terrorist attack and denied requests for security.
On Friday, IRS officials admitted to targeting tea party organizations, but said it was not a political move and was done by lower level officials. However, later news reports found that the targeting went beyond tea party groups and included other conservative organizations as well.
On Monday, the AP, the world’s largest news gathering organization, reported that the Justice Department seized the phone records of 20 reporters and editors in April and May 2012 as part of a leak investigation.
Carney insisted Tuesday that the president cannot comment on either the IRS or the AP matter until further details are available.
“On these other issues, these are issues we are finding out about and we need to wait appropriately for independent action to be completed before he can take any action or comment specifically on it,” Carney said.
Nixon is most remembered for being the first president to resign from office in 1974 at the height of the Watergate scandal to avoid impeachment. The second Watergate impeachment article, approved by the House Judiciary Committee, said, “He [Nixon] has, acting personally and through his subordinates and agents, endeavoured to obtain from the Internal Revenue Service, in violation of the constitutional rights of citizens, confidential information contained in income tax returns for purposes not authorized by law, and to cause, in violation of the constitutional rights of citizens, income tax audits or other income tax investigations to be intitiated or conducted in a discriminatory manner.
Carney said this type of discussion was politicized.
“It is a reflection of the rapid politicization of everything that you have that kind of commentary,” Carney said of the Obama-Nixon comparison. “Everything becomes a huge political issue when, if you look at the facts, and I think Benghazi is instructive in this, the real issue that four Americans died and we need to do everything we can, as the president has committed himself to doing, to try to find out who did it, finding out why, and taking the steps necessary to ensure that our diplomatic personnel are protected and what happened in Benghazi doesn’t happen again.”
On the IRS matter, Carney said it was important to wait for the release of the inspector general report.
Peppered with questions on the AP records, Carney said Obama is committed to a balance in protecting the First Amendment and protecting national security.
“We don’t have any knowledge of that. We have independent news reports yesterday on the road,” Carney said. “All I can tell you is I cannot and he cannot comment specifically on an ongoing criminal investigation, or actions that Justice Department investigators may or may not have taken. It would be wholly inappropriate if we did comment on it or if we did have insight into it. You would appropriately ask why and if that is correct procedure because it would not be.”
“I can’t tell you the specifics of that, but I can tell you the president feels strongly that we need the press to be unfettered in its pursuit of investigative journalism,” Carney continued. “When he was a senator, the president co-sponsored legislation that would have provided protections for journalists in this regard. He is also mindful of the need for secret and classified information to remain secret and classified in order to protect our national security interests. There is a careful balance here that must be attained.”