President Obama said Sunday there was “not even a smidgen” of corruption in the IRS targeting of conservative groups, and that his team did not try to deceive the nation about the terrorist attack in Benghazi to aid his reelection bid in 2012.
In a contentious interview with Bill O’Reilly of Fox News before the Super Bowl, the president said he doesn’t remember meeting with former IRS chief Douglas Shulman during any of Mr. Shulman’s 157 visits to the White House during his first term.
He said the Mr. Shulman had multiple meetings at the White House over the implementation of Obamacare and financial reforms, not about any targeting of Mr. Obama’s political adversaries.
Asked by Mr. O’Reilly whether his administration used the IRS for political purposes, Mr. Obama called such implications “absolutely wrong.”
“That’s not what happened,” the president said. “These kinds of things keep on surfacing in part because you and your TV station will promote them. There have been multiple hearings on it.”
The president said that tea-party groups became the target of extra scrutiny because IRS workers were confused about the granting of tax-exempt status for certain groups.
“Folks did not know how to implement it,” Mr. Obama said. “There were some boneheaded decisions … not even a smidgeon of corruption.”
At the time he fired acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller in 2013, the president said he was outraged by the agency’s actions.
On the terrorist attack at the U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens in September 2012, Mr. Obama dodged a question on whether then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told him immediately it was an act of terrorism.
“What he told me was there was an attack on our compound, we don’t know yet who’s doing it,” Mr. Obama said. “In the heat of the moment, Bill, what folks are focused on is what’s happening on the ground.”
The president denied that he and his campaign told Americans for weeks that the attack was a result of a spontaneous protest because he didn’t want it to hurt his reelection chances.
“That is inaccurate,” Mr. Obama said. “We revealed to the American people exactly what we understood at the time. The notion that we would hide the ball for political purposes when a week later we all said there was a terrorist attack.… that wouldn’t be a very good cover-up.”