Charles Dharapak, Associated Press
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama tried to defuse a trio of controversies Thursday, pledging to work with Congress to ensure the IRS doesn't abuse its power, urging legislators to provide more money to strengthen security at U.S. diplomatic outposts and promising to seek "a balance" between national security and a need to protect freedom of the press.
"I think we're going to be able to fix it," Obama said, speaking in particular of the IRS' targeting of conservative groups for special scrutiny. He vowed to make sure the agency is "doing its job scrupulously and without even a hint of bias."
Trying to steer clear of Republican criticism of the administration's response to the terror attacks that killed four Americans last year in Benghazi, Libya, the president called on Congress to work with the White House to provide more money to strengthen U.S. diplomatic missions' security.
"We need to come together and truly honor the sacrifice of those four courageous Americans and better secure our diplomatic posts around the world," Obama said. "That's how we learn the lessons of Benghazi. That's how we keep faith with the men and women who we send overseas to represent America."
Obama also was asked about the government's seizure of telephone records of reporters and editors of The Associated Press in an investigation of news leaks. The president said he would not comment on that specific case but said that "leaks related to national security can put people at risk." At the same time, he said, the government has an obligation to be open. He said the challenge was to find an appropriate balance between secrecy and the right to know.
Obama said he makes no apologies for trying to protect classified information, but he also said the AP case shows the importance of striking a proper balance between safeguarding classified information and ensuring freedom of the press.
"That's a worthy conversation to have," Obama said in his first public comments on the AP matter.
Obama said it was a good time to take another look at proposed legislation to protect journalists from having to reveal information, including the identity of sources who have been promised confidentiality. The bill contains exceptions in instances of national security.
Noting the presence of U.S. troops and intelligence officers in risky situations around the world, Obama said, "Part of my job is to make sure that we're protecting what they do while still accommodating for the need for the public to be informed and to be able to hold my office accountable."
The president is trying to shake off a growing perception that he has been passive in responding to a series of developments that threaten to derail his second-term agenda and ensnarl his White House in GOP-led congressional investigations.
Hoping to regain momentum, already this week Obama has released a trove of documents related to the Benghazi terror attacks amid pressure from Republicans, asked Congress to revive action on the shield law, and forced the resignation of the top IRS official. The president is expected to nominate a new acting IRS commissioner this week to replace Steven Miller, who resigned Wednesday.
The president spoke at a rainy Rose Garden news conference with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. As drizzles gave way to a steady rain, Obama summoned Marine guards to provide umbrellas for Erdogan and himself, joking, "I've got a change of suits but I don't know about our prime minister."
Obama's initial response to the three controversies was cautious. That, combined with his earlier lack of awareness about controversies brewing within his administration, opened him to criticism from his Republican foes.
"If Obama really learned about the latest IRS and AP secret subpoena scandals in the news, who exactly is running the ship at the White House?" Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski said.
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