“I can tell you that people who make those kind of comparisons need to check their history,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said, deflecting a reporter who asked about the increasingly frequent comparisons being drawn between President Obama and his White House predecessor, Richard Nixon.
Under assault by the White House press corps, Carney did his best today to make the administration’s case that it is not culpable for the scandals brewing throughout the federal government, from the Department of Justice to the IRS and the White House itself.
“The president is a strong defender of the first amendment and a firm believer in the need for the press to be unfettered,” he told reporters in response to inquiries about the Department of Justice’s monitoring of reporters’ telephone conversations.
The Associated Press reported yesterday that phone conversations were monitored in connection with a leak probe exploring how the news organization learned about a counter-terror investigation in Yemen. The disclosure sparked comparisons to the Nixon administration, during which the president infamously kept an “enemies list” composed of his political opponents.
The White House press secretary stressed the need to find the “balance” between the need to protect classified information and the need for a free press. “This is a balance that the president believes is important, that we have to find,” he said, but refused to comment on an ongoing criminal investigation.
That investigation is now being supervised by Deputy Attorney General James Cole. The Department of Justice said earlier today that attorney general Eric Holder recused himself from the matter after being interviewed by the FBI in connection with the investigation.
Carney was similarly reticent to offer comment about the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups, insisting repeatedly that the administration is waiting for the release of an inspector general’s report, which is expected to come this week.
Holder, however, indicated that his department is taking action. “The FBI is coordinating with the Justice Department to see if any laws were broken in connection with those matters related to the IRS,” he said, speaking at a simultaneous press conference. “We are examining the facts to see if there were criminal violations.”
“In every instance either the president or you have placed the responsibility on someone else,” AP reporter Jim Kuhnhenn told Carney. “But it is the president’s administration.” With that — the opening remark of the briefing — he seemed to sum up much of the sentiment among a press corps that feels frustrated, misled, and still looking for answers.