WASHINGTON - An exasperated President Obama on Monday called Republican criticism of his handling of the attacks in Benghazi, Libya, "a sideshow" and said that any accusation of a coverup by his administration "defies logic."
Speaking to reporters for the first time since his GOP adversaries used congressional hearings to renew their political assault, Obama was dismissive of the continuing controversy, saying that those in Washington who are playing politics with the issue "dishonor" the four people who died in Benghazi last fall.
"Suddenly, three days ago, this gets spun up as if there's something new to the story. There's no 'there' there," Obama told reporters during a news conference with David Cameron, the British prime minister.
Different tone on IRS
The president took a strikingly different tone about the other controversy that is riveting attention in the nation's capital: the revelation that Internal Revenue Service employees targeted conservative groups for audits.
"I've got no patience for it," he said. "I will not tolerate it."
But on Benghazi, the president seemed resigned to a continuing barrage of political accusations, which he said were not designed to actually help the State Department make sure that similar attacks do not happen again.
Responding to GOP accusations over the weekend that his administration tried to cover up that the Benghazi attacks were linked to terrorism, the president pointed out that he sent the head of the counterterrorism center to brief lawmakers three days after U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice delivered the now-disputed talking points on several Sunday talk shows.
"Who executes some sort of cover-up or effort to tamp something down for three days?" he said. "This whole thing defies logic."
Obama repeated that his administration was as transparent as it could have been in the hours after the attacks at the diplomatic facility in Benghazi on Sept. 11. He said "nobody understood" what exactly had happened there in the first few days after the attacks and that Republicans in Washington were not being helpful in fixing what went wrong that day.
Obama also said that he doesn't "have time to be playing these political games in Washington" and said the focus should be on the four people who died, including the ambassador, J. Christopher Stevens. "We dishonor them when we turn things like this into a political circus."
And on British politics ...
The president also waded into British politics at the joint news conference, suggesting that the United Kingdom seek to reform its relationship with the European Union before it decides to simply break away from it.
The stance put Obama squarely on the side of British Prime Minister David Cameron, who was visiting the United States as he faces growing pressure at home to abandon the European bloc.
The question of the United Kingdom's role in the European Union has been dogging Cameron and even dividing members of his own Conservative Party. From Obama's standpoint, Britain provides the U.S. with an important ally in the E.U.
Cameron says he wants to work to change and improve the relationship between Britain and the European Union and has promised to hold a referendum on E.U. participation in 2017. He said submitting the question to a referendum now would "be a false choice between the status quo and leaving."
Obama then offered his support. "David's basic point — that you probably want to see if you can fix what's broken in a very important relationship before you break it off — makes some sense to me, and I know that David's been very active in seeking some reforms internal to the E.U."
Obama said the U.K.'s participation in the E.U. demonstrates its influence, but he acknowledged that making internal changes to the European bloc require tough negotiations involving other countries.
Both men expressed hope that the United States and the European Union could launch the start of negotiations on a broad U.S.-E.U. trade deal by next month's economic summit in Northern Ireland.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.