WASHINGTON — Under mounting pressure, President Barack Obama on Wednesday released a trove of documents related to the Benghazi attack and forced out the top official at the Internal Revenue Service following revelations that the agency targeted conservative political groups. The moves were aimed at halting a perception spreading among both White House opponents and allies that the president has been passive and disengaged as controversies consume his second term.
In another action, the White House asked Congress to revive a media shield law that would protect journalists from having to reveal information, a step seen as a response to the Justice Department's widely criticized subpoenas of phone records from reporters and editors at The Associated Press.
The flurry of activity signaled a White House anxious to regain control amid the trio of deepening controversies. The incidents have emboldened Republicans, overshadowed Obama's legislative agenda and threatened to plunge his second term into a steady stream of congressional investigations.
Standing in the East Room of the White House, the president said Acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller had resigned and vowed that more steps would be taken to hold those responsible accountable.
"Americans have a right to be angry about it, and I am angry about it," Obama said of the IRS actions. "I will not tolerate this kind of behavior at any agency, but especially at the IRS given the power that it has and the reach that it has into all of our lives."
The president, seeking to keep up his more robust profile on the controversies, also said he would take questions from reporters Thursday at a previously scheduled news conference with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Obama had addressed the IRS matter on Monday, but his measured words left many unsatisfied, particularly given that he had waited three days to address the developments. He also repeatedly asserted that he was waiting to find out if the reports were accurate, even though top IRS officials had already acknowledged the controversial actions.
Adding to narrative of a passive president were White House efforts to distance Obama from the IRS scandal, as well as the revelations that the Justice Department had secretly obtained work and personal phone records of journalists. In both cases, the White House insisted the president had no prior knowledge of the events and learned about the matters like the general public — from news reports.
Obama's cautious response, combined with his lack of awareness about controversies brewing within his administration, opened him to quick 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 spokesman Kirsten Kukowski said.
But in a worrying sign for the White House, some Democrats also criticized the president for not being more aggressive in responding to trouble within the government.
Robert Gibbs, Obama's former White House press secretary, said the president should have appointed a bipartisan commission of former IRS officials to look into the issue of targeting political organizations. And Gibbs gently chided his former boss for using passive language when he first addressed the political targeting during a White House news conference Monday.
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company