At issue are three ostensibly unrelated sets of events: the killing of the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11; the improper and overly aggressive Internal Revenue Service scrutiny of groups opposed to Obama’s agenda; and the Justice Department’s seizure of phone records of Associated Press journalists.
“He’s got a trifecta going,” said Don Goldberg, who worked in the Clinton White House’s damage-control operation. “When you add it all up, it’s going to be a rough few months going into the summer.”
On Wednesday, the administration was fighting back on all three fronts.
The White House released 100 pages of e-mails relating to the Benghazi attacks; Obama announced the resignation of the acting IRS director and pledged further action to correct the abuses; and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. appeared on Capitol Hill to defend his agency — at one point, going so far as to tell Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), a frequent antagonist, that his conduct was “unacceptable. It is shameful.”
Taken together, and seen through the eyes of critics, the three controversies that confront the White House look like a tea party fever dream.
“The news has, I think, awakened the public, beginning to raise questions in their minds as to the direction of this government. And really, to whom is this government accountable?” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said Wednesday.
”We are accountable to the families of the victims in Benghazi,” Cantor added. “We certainly are accountable to the taxpayers and the people of this country as to the actions of the IRS. And we certainly have plenty of questions and are accountable to the press in terms of its First Amendment rights and its ability to enjoy those and realize those.”
White House officials dismiss criticism that they have not been quick or aggressive enough in grappling with the various controversies.
“It is not rocket science. There are two rules,” said White House communications director Jennifer Palmieri. “One, to respond as quickly as you can. Two, not at the risk of making the problem worse. It is not worth getting a jump of eight or 10 hours in responding, if you are creating a problem the president will have to live with for years.”
Obama aides and allies say that each of the three cases raises different issues — some of which are legitimate, and some of which are being pumped up by Republicans for maximum political gain.