WASHINGTON — An exasperated President Barack Obama on Monday called Republican criticism of his handling of the attacks in Benghazi, Libya, “a sideshow” and said that any accusation of a cover-up by his administration “defies logic.”
Speaking to reporters for the first time since his Republican adversaries used congressional hearings to renew their political assault, Obama was dismissive of the continuing controversy, saying that those in Washington who are playing politics with the issue “dishonor” the four people who died in Benghazi last fall.
“Suddenly, three days ago, this gets spun up as if there’s something new to the story. There’s no there there,” Obama told reporters during a news conference with David Cameron, the British prime minister.
The president took a strikingly different tone about the other controversy that is riveting attention in the nation’s capital: the revelation that Internal Revenue Service employees targeted conservative groups for audits.
Obama said he learned about those allegations from news media reports on Friday. He repeatedly called the charges “outrageous,” if true, and said that anyone found to be guilty of such actions should be held accountable.
“I’ve got no patience for it,” he said. “I will not tolerate it.”
The president’s blunt condemnation of the IRS appeared designed to head off fallout from the scandal, as Republicans — and some Democrats — called for hearings and investigations into the matter.
But on Benghazi, the president seemed resigned to a continuing barrage of political accusations, which he said were not designed to actually help the State Department make sure that similar attacks do not happen again.
Responding to Republican accusations over the weekend that his administration tried to cover up that the Benghazi attacks were linked to terrorism, the president pointed out that he sent the head of the counterterrorism center to brief lawmakers three days after Susan E. Rice, the ambassador to the United Nations, delivered the now-disputed talking points on several Sunday talk shows.
“Who executes some sort of cover-up or effort to tamp something down for three days?” he said. “This whole thing defies logic.”
Obama repeated that his administration was as transparent as it could have been in the hours after the attacks at the diplomatic facility in Benghazi on Sept. 11. He said “nobody understood” what exactly had happened there in the first few days after the attacks and that Republicans in Washington were not being helpful in fixing what went wrong that day.
Obama also said that he doesn’t “have time to be playing these political games in Washington” and said the focus should be on the four people who died, including the ambassador, J. Christopher Stevens. “We dishonor them when we turn things like this into a political circus.”