President Barack Obama defended his administration’s effort to stamp out national security leaks amid the controversy over the seizure of Associated Press phone records by the Justice Department.
“I make no apologies” for wanting to stop leaks that endanger soldiers and intelligence officers in the field, the president told reporters Thursday, while declining to comment specifically on the AP case.
“U.S. national security is dependent on those folks being able to operate with confidence that folks back home have their backs. So they’re not just left out there high and dry and potentially put in even more danger than they may already be,” he said.
He said the disclosure about the acquisition of AP reporters’ phone records has raised the issue of how to balance security and press freedom, and he thinks now is the right time for a media shield law.
“This case has prompted renewed interest about how do we strike that balance properly — and I think now’s the time for us to go ahead and revisit that legislation,” Obama said.
When asked about his support for Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., Obama said: “I have complete confidence in Eric Holder as attorney general. He’s an outstanding attorney general and does his job with integrity, and I expect he will continue to do so.”
Obama made the comments in a Rose Garden press conference with the prime minister of Turkey, Tayyip Erdogan.
Obama reiterated his vow to make changes at the IRS so it never again targets groups based on their politics.
“I’m looking forward to working with Congress to fully investigate what happened, make sure that it doesn’t happen again, and also look at some of the laws that create a bunch of ambiguity in which the IRS may not have enough guidance and not be clear about what, exactly, they need to be doing, and doing it right, so that the American people have confidence that the tax laws are being applied fairly and evenly,” he said.
But Obama said he did not see the need for a special counsel to investigate the IRS, saying that congressional investigations and a Justice Department criminal probe ought to be enough.
“Between those investigations, I think we’re going to be able to figure out exactly what happened, who was involved, what went wrong, and we’re going to be able to implement steps to fix it,” he said.
Obama also called again on Congress to fully fund diplomatic security upgrades in the wake of the fatal attack on the U.S. outpost in Benghazi, Libya.
“So I want to say to members of Congress in both parties, we need to come together and truly honor the sacrifices of those four courageous Americans and better secure our diplomatic posts around the world,” he said.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.