President Barack Obama again denied any wrongdoing by the IRS over their targeting of conservative tea party groups, telling Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly there was “not even a smidgen of corruption” in the way the tax enforcer processed tea partiers’ 501(c)4 paperwork.
O’Reilly spoke with the president just before the Super Bowl on Sunday, touching on the Obamacare rollout and the Benghazi attacks as well as the IRS scandal. He asked Obama if it “was the biggest mistake of your presidency to tell the nation, over and over, if you like your insurance you can keep your insurance.”
“Oh, Bill, you’ve got a long list of my mistakes in my presidency,” Obama began, waving dismissively at O’Reilly.
“But no, really,” O’Reilly continued, “for you, isn’t this the biggest one?”
Obama said that he had already expressed regret over his words and that his administration was working to fix the problem for the millions who have lost their coverage since October. But O’Reilly wasn’t quite finished. “It’s in the past, but isn’t that the biggest mistake?” he asked. “You gave your enemies a lot of fodder with it.”
“You were very generous in saying I looked pretty good, considering I’ve been in the presidency for five years,” Obama said. “And I think part of the reason is, try to focus not on the fumbles but on the next plan.”
The interview became more contentious when O’Reilly brought up Benghazi. The Fox reporter tried to pin the president down on whether he knew that the attacks were carried out by terrorists — despite White House claims they were part of a spontaneous protest caused by an anti-Islamic Youtube video.
Obama tried to explain away the controversy by blaming the fog of war. But again, O’Reilly persisted. “Your detractors believe that you did not tell the world it was a terror attack because your campaign did not want that out,” he claimed.
“And they believe that because folks like you are telling them that!” Obama shot back, taking a not-so-subtle dig at Fox. “And what I’m saying is that is inaccurate.”
The president also refused to acknowledge that the IRS illegally targeted tea party groups in the run-up to the 2012 election. “Absolutely wrong,” he said when O’Reilly broached the subject. “These kinds of things keep on surfacing, in part, because you and your TV station will promote them… We’ve had multiple hearings on it!”
“So you’re saying there was no corruption there at all?” O’Reilly asked.
“Absolutely not,” the president replied. “There were some bone-headed decisions out of a local office.”
“But no mass corruption?” O’Reilly persisted.
“Not even mass corruption,” a visibly-annoyed Obama replied. “Not even a smidgen of corruption.”
It’s a far cry from Obama’s May 2013 statement called the targeting “outrageous.” But it was more in line with the answer he gave to MSNBC’s Chris Matthews in December, when he dismissed all the outrage over a simple “list” made by IRS bureaucrats to make their jobs easier.