TODAY   |  May 16, 2013

White House dealing with fallout of scandals

The Obama administration is struggling to recover from three recent scandals: the IRS targeting GOP organizations, accusations of a Benghazi cover-up, and the seizure of journalists’ phone records. NBC’s Peter Alexander reports and NBC’s Chuck Todd discusses the implications.

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>>> we're also following developments on three scandals within the obama administration. the acting commissioner of the irs is out and there are calls for more heads to roll. nbc's white house correspondent peter alexander has more on that story. good morning.

>> reporter: good morning to you. this white house has been facing days of intense scrutiny. and this morning, they're hoping they stopped the bleeding. the president has been accused by his critics of being too slow, too passive, even too disengaged in terms of his response to these swirls storms and now launched what you might describe as a three-front war hoping to try to halt the political damage.

>> the white house trying to neutralize three spreading controversies at once. late wednesday, president obama himself announcing the resignation of irs ' acting commissioner steven miller , his departure early next month.

>> americans have the right to be angry about it.

>> miller acknowledged an immediate need to restore trust in the agency. but the president's critics aren't satisfied. one top house republican insisting there are still far too many unanswered questions. questions surrounding the deadly attacken o the u.s. consulate in benghazi last september, as well. the white house releasing 100 pages of previously classified e-mails and notes outlining the intense back and forth between diplomatic and intelligence officials over the government's talking points used by u.n. ambassador susan rice that ultimately removed any reference to al qaeda or previous cia warnings in the region. a senior intelligence official telling nbc news deputy cia director mike morell crossed out those references on this early draft. but morell's then boss david petraeus seemed to disagree with the watered down version that excluded any mention of security warnings. writing, frankly, i'd just as soon not use this. accused of playing politics right before the election.

>> you don't have to be sherlock holmes to figure this out. the story of benghazi if accurately reported would undercut the narrative, al qaeda 's on the run and they manipulated the evidence to help the political reelection.

>> the white house says no political advisers were involved in the process. and following the justice department 's widely criticized seizure of journalist phone records, the white house wednesday pressed congress to revive a law that would protect reporters from having to reveal information in the future. the white house is also going to face head on another significant issue. today, this morning a senior administration official tells me that the president will meet with his joint chiefs and the defense secretary , matt, to focus on the issue of sexual assault within the military. mr. obama will also face more tough questions today hosting a press conference alongside the turkish prime minister .

>> peter alexander at the white house , thank you. we want to bring in chuck todd . good morning.

>> good morning.

>> wonder what the thinking is inside the white house . you and i both know often they look at things like this and say, oh, this is a faux washington scandal, it will blow over. seems to be different this time. seems to be genuine concern.

>> it was typical white house reaction, they underreact, underreact, and then they do it in one day and try to get it all behind them. the story they're most concerned about is the irs . the irs gets the credibility of the government. this is the government that's trying to implement health care , trying to reform the immigration system. if the irs is not trusted, it could undermine all of his plans.

>> and it's easy to understand. you can explain what happened here in one sentence which is powerful ammunition for the nation's critics. do you think the steps we were taking yesterday are sufficient to stem the furor?

>> not with congress. and i think the president showed more anger than he did in the early days as much about politics as anything else with the public, but congress isn't satisfied and they shouldn't be. that report didn't answer certain questions why did these rogue individuals in the cincinnati office do what they did?

>> meantime, releasing a series of e-mails covering the debate that went on within the agencies of the administration over what to say about the september 11th attacks on the consulate in benghazi . do those e-mails reveal anything about whether or not this is a side show as the president has called it or something more substantive?

>> well, i think we know campaign politics wasn't involved, but agency politics was. i think this raises more questions about what was the argument going on between the state department and cia? one of the most intriguing e-mails was at the end from david petraeus . he goes, why are we bothering with these talking points ? they've become so watered down.

>> and very quickly, i read a headline that said republicans see blood in the water. they see a president very vulnerable politically. is there a danger they will overreach?

>> there is. that's what happened to republicans in 1998 with bill clinton . and if all of congress is focusing on hearings to do scandals, the voters will punish them. they've done it in the past.

>> chuck todd , more to come on this, thank you very much.

>> thanks very much.