UPDATE 1:19 p.m.: The president said he has full confidence in his attorney general, Eric Holder, in light of the Associated Press phone records scandal. "I have complete confidence in Eric Holder as attorney general," he said.
Obama sidestepped questions about whether the Justice Department's seizure of Associated Press phone records constituted an overreach of government, but said there has to be a balance between protecting national security and enabling the press to do its job.
"Leaks related to national security can put people at risk. They can put men and women in uniform that I sent into the battlefield at risk" as well as intelligence officers, Obama said. "U.S. national security is dependent on those folks being able to operate with confidence that the folks back home have their backs so they're not left out high and dry."
But Obama also said the country operates under freedom of the press where the media holds government accountable, and said the media shield legislation would help ensure that ideal.
"Now's the time for us to go ahead and revisit that legislation ... but I also think it's important to recognize that when we express concern about the leaks at a time when I still have 60,000-plus troops in Afghanistan and I still have a whole bunch of intelligence officers around the world who are in risky situations. Part of my job is to make sure that we're protecting what they do while still accounting for the need for the public to be informed and be able to hold my office accountable."
Obama also chose not to address the comparisons made between his administration and that of former President Richard Nixon.
"I'll let you guys engage in those comparisons," the president said, referring to the media. "You can go ahead and read the history I think and draw your own conclusions."
UPDATE 1:02 p.m. EDT: Obama says he first learned of the IRS targeting tea party and conservative groups through press reports.
"I can assure you that I certainly did not know anything about the [IRS inspector general] report before the IG report ahd been leaked through the press," the president said. He added that typically such reports are "not supposed to be widely distributed or shared."
"What I'm absolutely certain of is the actions described in that IG report is unacceptable . ...It is just simply unacceptable for there to be even a hint of ... ideology when it comes to the application of our tax laws ," Obama said. "My main conern is fixing a problem and we began that process yesterday by asking and accepting the resignation of the [IRS] acting director. We will be putting in new leadership to follow up on the IG audit, get all the facts."
UPDATE 12:54 p.m. EDT: In his opening remarks, Obama said his administration is taking a "series of steps" to prevent another attack like the one at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.
"I am intent on making sure that we do everything we can to prevent another tragedy like this from happening," the president said. Obama said he directed the Defense Department to have the military respond "lightning quick" in times of crises, such as the attack on the consulate in Benghazi. The president added that his administration is continuing to review security at dangerous diplomatic posts. He noted that congressional approval would be needed for some of the provisions.
State Department official Greg Hicks, who was the top ranking diplomat in Libya after the death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens, testified to Congress earlier this month that he was told U.S. special forces were ordered to stand down after trying to get on a plane to the consulate.
UPDATE 12:21 p.m. EDT: As we wait for the press conference to get underway, CBS News White House Correspondent Mark Knoller tweeted that journalists have been pre-chosen to ask questions. We'll see what kind of effect this will have.
President Barack Obama is holding a joint news conference with his Turkish counterpart, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. While the civil war in Syria will dominate the questions, follow this live blog for any questions that may come up on the three scandals ensnaring the Obama administration.
Obama addressed the nation Wednesday night on the IRS scandal, informing the country that acting IRS head Steven Miller handed in his resignation due to the controversy.
“I’ve reviewed the Treasury Department watchdog’s report, and the misconduct that it uncovered is inexcusable,” the president said. “It’s inexcusable, and Americans have a right to be angry about it, and I am angry about it. I will not tolerate this kind of behavior in any agency, but especially in the IRS given the power that it has and the reach that it has in all of our lives.”
Also on Wednesday, the White House released 100 pages of emails from various federal agencies on the contentious Benghazi talking points. Some Republicans have accused the administration of covering up what it knew about the motivation for the attack on the consulate. The White House, based on initial information from the CIA, said the attack was spurred by protesters angered about the anti-Islam YouTube video “Innocence of Muslims,” but later said it was the result of a coordinated terrorist attack by a group sympathetic to al Qaeda.
As far as the AP scandal, Obama has yet to discuss the scandal in depth, although he said he first learned that the Justice Department obtained the phone records of 100 AP staffers through media reports.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder recused himself from Justice’s investigation into the leak of confidential information used by the AP in a story last year about a Yemen-based terror plot disrupted by the CIA. The leak led to the seizing of the AP phone records in Justice’s effort to find the source of the leak. Holder said he had information that was used in the leak and it would be a conflict of interest for him to head the investigation. His deputy, Jim Cole, is spearheading the probe.
Justice subpoenaed the phone records without informing the AP, and the move has been criticized by elected officials on both sides of the aisle who said the action amounted to press intimidation and was an act of government overreach. Laws say that Justice has to exhaust all methods to try and find the leak before the agency can go after such phone records.
Erdogan is expected to ask Obama to get more involved to help stop the fighting in Syria, which shares a border with Turkey. So far, the U.S. government has provided nonlethal aid to the rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told the media Wednesday that Obama “will have discussions with the [Erdogan] about a range of issues. And I'm sure that Syria will be very high on the agenda, including ways that we can, working together and with our partners, bring about the transition that is so essential in Syria, including the efforts that are underway to revitalize the Geneva Framework for a political transition -- we've been working with the Russians on that matter, as well as others -- and including the ways that we are working to provide assistance to the opposition and to the Syrian people.”