Obama defends against GOP criticism in testy interview

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Bill O'Riley interviews President Barack Obama at the White House Fe. 2, 2014.

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama’s annual pre-Super Bowl television interview Sunday turned into a showdown with Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, who quizzed the president on the 2012 terror attack in Benghazi, Libya, and the targeting scandal involving the IRS – both topics that Republicans frequently use to criticize Obama.

The live interview, aired during the Fox Broadcast Network’s pregame coverage, kicked off with a question on the botched rollout of the federal health care website and later moved to the Benghazi and IRS questions, which some Republicans say involve administration-led cover-ups. Obama pointed out during the session that multiple congressional hearings on the topics over the past year have failed to turn up anything.

“These kinds of things keep surfacing in part because you and your TV station will promote them,” he said, referring to the Fox News Channel, where O’Reilly hosts a primetime hour.

The administration response to the September 2012 attack at the American diplomatic post in Benghazi — which some conservatives say was botched – was focused on getting Americans to safety, Obama said, noting that information was extremely difficult when the attack was happening. Obama said his Defense Secretary at the time, Leon Panetta, told him there was an attack, but didn’t specify whether it was terrorism.

“The fact of the matter is people understood at the time that something dangerous was happening. And we were focused on making sure we were doing everything we could to protect them,” he said.

He later proclaimed there was “not a smidgen of corruption” involved in the IRS targeting case, which sprung up last spring after the agency admitted to applying extra scrutiny to conservative groups applying for tax exempt status. Later, it was revealed the word “progressive” also singled groups out for extra screening.

And when O’Reilly wondered why Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius hadn’t been fired for her role in the HealthCare.gov website, Obama said he was focused instead on trying to make his signature legislative achievement function well.

“When we’re midstream, we want to make sure our focus is how do we make this thing work,” he said.

The interview ended with O’Reilly telling the president he thought “his heart’s in the right place.”

Obama, smiling, said he enjoyed it.

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