President Barack Obama dismissed calls for the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate the IRS scandal, and evaded a question asking if White House officials knew of the IRS targeting of conservative political groups.
“I can assure that I certainly did not know anything about the [inspector general] report before the IG report had been leaked through the press,” he told reporters during a Thursday lunchtime press conference held in the White House Rose Garden.
Obama’s evasion will likely spur public suspicions that White House officials knew about, or even supported, the IRS targeting.
When asked about a special prosecutor, Obama said he would work with investigations begun by Congress and the Department of Justice.
“Between those investigations, I think we will be able to figure out exactly what happened … and we’re going to be able to implement steps to fix it. And that, ultimately, is the main priority that I have,” he said.
“I have complete confidence in Eric Holder as attorney general,” he said in response to a question about the simultaneous scandal over the department’s investigation of phone calls by reporters working for The Associated Press news agency.
Special prosecutors are appointed by the attorney general, not by Congress.
A special prosecutor would be a political nightmare for the White House, because the prosecutor would have the ability to investigate many people and offices to see if they knew — or even aided — the IRS actions.
IRS officials and media outlets have described suppression of conservative political groups, including tea party and pro-life groups, as well as suspected targeting of donors, activists and even at least one GOP political candidate.
The scandal is dangerous to Obama, partly because it bolsters public worries about his plans for expanding government.
The scandal has also influenced media coverage and generated wave of articles and TV clips that show tea party groups in a complimentary light.
Media outlets have become increasingly skeptical toward the administration.
During the press conference, for example, a reporter asked Obama if the scandal made him look like President Richard Nixon, who was forced from office amid multiple scandals, including the White House’s use of the IRS to target political rivals.
“I’ll let you guys engage in those comparisons,” Obama said testily. “And you can go ahead and read the history, I think, and draw your own conclusions.”