Updated, 10:30 p.m.
The White House has appointed a new acting Internal Revenue Service Commissioner, saying that Daniel Werfel, current controller of the Office of Management and Budget, would be named acting IRS chief, effective May 22.
“The American people deserve to have the utmost confidence and trust in their government, and as we work to get to the bottom of what happened and restore confidence in the IRS, Danny has the experience and management ability necessary to lead the agency at this important time,” President Obama said in a statement.
Obama, trying to douse three political fires threatening to engulf his second term, seized on his renewed offense on Thursday, taking questions from reporters and insisting he’s doing all he can to contain these political disasters.
It’s Obama’s third press conference this week, demonstrating that the administration is clearly in damage control mode over Benghazi, the IRS, and the AP, and is trying to show both competence and transparency.
Critics have been tossing around words like “Nixonian” about the Justice Department’s decision to seize two months of phone records from Associated Press journalists. When asked about the comparison to one of the most unpopular, scandal-ridden presidents ever, Obama would not take the bait.
“I’ll let you guys engage in those comparisons,” said Obama. “You can go ahead and read the history, I think, and draw your own conclusions.”
On the IRS, Obama reiterated his outrage Thursday that some officials at the tax-collecting agency had wrongly targeted conservative groups. The president, who fired the acting IRS boss earlier this week, promised those officials would be held accountable.
“We are going to identify any structural or management issues to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” said Obama, who was joined by visiting Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Obama also said he fully supported Attorney General Eric Holder, who has come under scrutiny for the Justice Department’s investigation of AP journalists having to do with a top-secret CIA operation in Yemen to stop a bomb plot. The AP wrote a story about it in May 2012. Some Republicans, including Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus, have called for Holder’s resignation.
“I have complete confidence in Eric Holder,” Obama said Thursday. “He does his job with integrity and I expect he will continue to do so.” Holder has said he recused himself from the investigation and had handed the reins to his deputy.
Obama carefully tried to strike a balance between being concerned about the country’s security while also demonstrating his commitment to a free press.
“You know, leaks related to national security can put people at risk,” he said. “It can put men and women in uniform that I’ve sent to the battlefield at risk. They can put some of our intelligence officers who are in various dangerous situations that are easily compromised at risk,” the president said.
“The flip side of it is, we also live in a democracy where a free press, free expression and open flow of information helps hold me accountable, helps hold the government accountable, and helps democracy function,” Obama added, insisting the federal shield law could help balance the two.
And on Benghazi, Obama called on Congress to beef up security at U.S. diplomatic posts around the world. “We need to come together and truly honor the sacrifices” of those who died in the Sept. 11 attack last year, he said.
His remarks come as some Republicans have been claiming that the Obama administration was involved in covering up last year’s deadly assault in Benghazi, Libya, which killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stephens.
Still, while Obama may be may be taking the bull by the horns when it comes to wrangling the trifecta of controversy that has dogged the White House this week, Republicans don’t seem to be loosening their grip on the commander-in-chief at all.
The president also took the opportunity at the press event to weigh in on U.S.-Turkey efforts to stop the bloody civil war in Syria. The Obama administration said last month that Syrian President Bashar Assad had likely used chemical weapons on its own people, something Obama said was a “red line” the country could not cross.
“We’re going to keep increasing the pressure on the Assad regime and working with the Syrian opposition,” said Obama. “We both agree that Assad needs to go.”