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Obama shifts Benghazi blame to Congress, demands security funding

- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 16, 2013

Standing in a drizzle that seemed to define his bad week, President Obama called on Congress on Thursday to boost security at U.S. embassies around the globe, seeking to deflect the issue onto lawmakers as the controversy simmers over the deadly terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya, in September.

"I am intent on making sure that we do everything we can to prevent another tragedy like this from happening," Mr. Obama said in the White House Rose Garden in a joint news conference with the prime minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. "We're going to need Congress as a partner."

Mr. Obama's attempt to shift responsibility for the Benghazi attack to Congress raised a perennial partisan debate over assigning blame for underfunded embassies and marked a furious damage-control effort by the White House after a series of scandals engulfed the administration in the past week.

The president has been knocked off message by the controversies, starting with emails that show administration officials eliminated references to terrorism in their "talking points" in September to explain the Benghazi attack in the midst of Mr. Obama's re-election campaign. Then the Internal Revenue Service admitted that it inappropriately targeted conservative groups for extra scrutiny during the election campaign, prompting the president Wednesday to fire the acting IRS commissioner and declare he was "angry."

Also, the Justice Department is under fire for seizing the phone records of editors and reporters at The Associated Press in a probe to find the source of a leak of government classified information. In a move that was seen as trying to placate the media, Mr. Obama on Wednesday resurrected a proposal to create a federal "shield law" for journalists who receive leaks.

The IRS and Benghazi affairs showed no signs of abating Thursday. Lawmakers vowed to press on with investigations to uncover more details, and the Justice Department is conducting a criminal probe into the IRS matter.

The White House released 100 emails late Wednesday pertaining to the Benghazi attack, outlining the development of the administration's "talking points."

The administration said the emails show that the White House was not involved in editing the bullet points.

But the emails show that State Department officials removed terrorism as a possible explanation in the earliest days after the assault, in which Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed.

David H. Petraeus, CIA director at the time, complained that the talking points had been watered down to the point that they were useless.

At his soggy press conference Thursday, Mr. Obama commented on the "intense discussion in Congress" about Benghazi and said his administration is working to implement the recommendations of a review board regarding embassy security. Then he spoke of the need for Congress to "fully fund our budget request to improve the security of our embassies around the world."

"We need to come together and truly honor the sacrifice of those four courageous Americans and better secure our diplomatic posts," the president said.

He said he intends to work with Republicans and Democrats to strengthen embassy security.

The Congressional Research Service has found that both parties typically have underfunded embassy security in annual spending bills.

In 2010, when Democrats controlled the House and Senate, the State Department received $142 million less than requested for protecting diplomatic posts.

House Republicans said that in the temporary appropriation bill approved in March Congress provided more than $1.4 billion above Mr. Obama's fiscal 2013 request for embassy security.

Some lawmakers say the issue doesn't fit Mr. Obama's narrative because the Benghazi compound was a CIA facility not controlled by the State Department's budget.

The facility was considered temporary and could not be funded with standard overseas building funds.

Lawmakers criticized the administration for not sending fighter jets to the Benghazi compound after the first wave of the attack. The review board's investigation concluded that such a maneuver would not have prevented the deaths of the Americans.

Mr. Obama said he has directed the Defense Department to "ensure that our military can respond lightning-quick in times of crisis."

As he spoke in a steady drizzle, Mr. Obama told Mr. Erdogan, "I'm sorry the weather's not fully cooperating with our lovely Rose Garden press conference, but I think we'll be OK."

He even asked the prime minister whether he wanted an umbrella before summoning two Marines to shield the two leaders from the rain. The press corps, Mr. Obama joked, was on its own.

Mr. Erdogan tried to make the best of the drizzle, noting that "rain is considered to be a great source of abundance."

Mere blocks away from the White House, it didn't rain, enhancing the impression that a dark cloud was hovering over the administration.

The president will try to regain control of his second-term agenda Friday by traveling to Baltimore for the second installment of his "Middle Class Jobs and Opportunity" tour.

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