President Barack Obama's team emerged on Sunday to defend his handling of revelations that the IRS had targeted conservative groups for scrutiny, as senior Republicans conceded they lacked evidence — so far — that the president directed the abuses.
White House adviser Dan Pfeiffer says that although actions that need to be taken on the IRS scandal plaguing the Obama administration, the wave of recent controversies won't adversely affect the Obama administration.
Republicans appeared on the Sunday talk show circuit with hopes of sustaining their political momentum generated during this past week, one of the toughest weeks of Obama's presidency. A series of controversies — that the IRS had targeted conservative groups, new questions about the administration's response to last year's terrorist attack in Benghazi, and news that the Department of Justice seized phone records of Associated Press journalists as part of an investigation regarding national security leaks — have forced the White House onto the defensive.
Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell said the IRS controversy amounted to evidence of a "culture of intimidation" by the administration. But he and Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., admitted they lacked evidence that the targeting of conservatives was ordered by the White House.
"We don't have anything to say that the president knew about this," said Camp, who chairs the House committee looking into the IRS controversy, on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky cites examples of what he sees as political maneuvering by the Obama administration.
McConnell also could not point to evidence of presidential involvement in the IRS's scrutinizing of conservatives, though the Kentucky senator argued that a need for more information justified emerging investigations into the controversy.
"I don't think we know what the facts are," he said, appearing separately on "Meet the Press" on Sunday. "The investigation has just begun, so I'm not going to reach a conclusion about what we may find."
Republicans have used the IRS controversy, along with the administration's other struggles as of late, to unify their party in Congress, and gain political traction against Obama. But their ability to sustain this momentum hinges on their ability to weave together these missteps into a more damning, overarching story about the administration.
But the White House has begun to push back. A top White House adviser, Dan Pfeiffer, emerged on Sunday to assert that the administration had handled the IRS fiasco properly.
"There is no question that Republicans are trying to make political hay here," Pfeiffer said on "Meet the Press" of the IRS controversy.
Pfeiffer sought to undercut Republicans' criticism by asserting that Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., a top GOP critic of the administration who is in charge of White House oversight, was actually aware of an inspector general's investigation into the IRS abuses as early as last fall. To that end, Pfeiffer argued that even if the president were aware of the investigation of the IRS at an earlier point, it would have been inappropriate to become involved with or interfere with the inquiry.
Pfeiffer also sought to push back on Republican criticism of the administration's response to last year's terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, which left four Americans dead, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens. The White House aide argued that Republicans had essentially circulated "doctored" versions of emails — original copies of which the administration released this week — that they had known about for months in order to ding the administration. Pfeiffer said the ploy was a sign that Republicans were "getting desperate."
McConnell said he thought it was clear that the administration had "made up a tale" about Benghazi last fall, so close to the presidential election, because admitting to having presided over a terrorist attack would have been politically inconvenient for Obama.
"The talking points clearly were not accurate, and I think getting to the bottom of that is an important investigation," he said.
This story was originally published on Sun May 19, 2013 7:55 AM EDT