The Benghazi "flare-up" is simply an attempt to dissuade former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton from running for president, but the IRS and Justice Department controversies need to be dealt with immediately, says former White House political adviser David Axelrod.
"It's going to be uncomfortable for the White House. ... I don't envy my colleagues sitting in that building right now."
The IRS is accused of unfairly targeting tea party, patriot, and pro-Israel groups seeking a tax exempt status by putting them through an intensive screening process that was far beyond normal procedures used by the tax collection agency.
"It was idiotic and I hope they come down hard on the folks that were responsible," Axelrod said, demanding that people be held accountable and new guidelines for considering tax exempt applications be put in place.
Axelrod, however, came to the defense of President Barack Obama, suggesting he had no connection to the IRS controversy and couldn't possibly know what is going on at all levels of government departments.
Obama has been criticized for not condemning the targeting effort in stronger terms, and for not firing George Miller, the acting director of the IRS.
"The president, he's cautious and often wants to see what he's commenting on before he's commenting on it," Axelrod said. But he added, "At the end of the day it seems he has expressed outrage."
Regarding the Justice Department's wiretapping and surveillance of Associated Press reporters in an effort to plug leaks of national security information, Axelrod, a former journalist himself, blamed the crackdown on calls last year by lawmakers and some media pundits for the FBI to get tougher on leakers.
"An investigation was started because many people, you [Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough] included, said there shouldn't be these leaks," he said, adding that it could hurt journalists in the end. "Anytime you prosecute someone for leaking, it's going to chill news sources."
With regard to the terrorist attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya, Axelrod said if he were still advising the White House he would press for a public release of information and emails related to the attacks on Sept. 11, 2012, that killed four Americans.
Clinton has come under fire for failing to provide enough security for the U.S. mission there. But Axelrod doesn't believe there was a cover-up after the fact. He said the "flare-up" from Republicans over administration talking-point revisions on Benghazi is no more than an effort to pressure Clinton out of running for president in 2016.
"Nobody was trying to hide the fact that there were a lot of mistakes made," he said. "I don't think there was an attempt at cover-up. Was it handled as well as it could have been? Absolutely not."
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