WASHINGTON -- House Speaker John Boehner raked the executive branch over the coals during a news conference on Wednesday, knocking President Obama's administration for a series of blossoming controversies but reserving his greatest outrage for the reported IRS targeting of conservative nonprofit groups for excessive review of their tax-exempt status during the 2012 election.
"There are laws in place to prevent this type of abuse," Boehner said. "Someone made a conscious decision to harass and to hold up these requests for tax-exempt status. I think we need to know who they are, whether they violated the law. Clearly someone violated the law."
And it's not a controversy that will dissipate after heads roll at the IRS or the White House, Boehner warned. "My question isn't about who's going to resign," he said. "My question is about who's going to jail over this scandal."
He also argued that it's time for the White House to stop equivocating and start acting on the controversy: "The IRS has admitted to targeting conservatives, even if the White House continues to be stuck on the word 'if.'"
At a news conference on Monday, Mr. Obama told reporters, "If, in fact, IRS personnel engaged in the kinds of practices that have been reported on and were intentionally targeting conservative groups, then that's outrageous, and there's no place for it."
Boehner also addressed the ongoing controversy involving the attack on a U.S. outpost in Benghazi and the resultant government response, saying "the American people deserve the truth and fairness from their government," and applauding the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee for their work investigating the incident.
He also called on the White House to release a raft of emails documenting the interagency review of talking points used to brief the public on the tragedy in Benghazi. Some have argued that the emails, which were reviewed by Republicans but not provided to them indefinitely, document a "scrubbing" process that was undergone to shield the White House and State Department from blame for the attack.
"The administration could make this a lot easier for all Americans by coming forward with emails that they've shown us in some cases but have not turned over to us," he said. "I don't want to prolong this any longer than anyone else. What I want is the truth."
At his news conference on Monday, the president said that the emails - and the talking points that resulted from them - were rooted in a desire to reflect the best available intelligence at the time, noting that previous congressional reviews of the emails "concluded there was nothing afoul in terms of the process we used."
But "suddenly, three days ago, this gets spun up as if there's something new to this story," he said.
Several House Republican leaders also reacted to the news that the Justice Department seized the phone records of numerous Associated Press reporters as part of an investigation into national security leaks.
The AP decried the seizure of records as a "massive and unprecedented intrusion," and other reporters have argued that the broad scope of the Justice Department's seizure represents more of an open-ended dragnet than a targeted investigation.
"I'm hopeful that we're going to get a clear explanation for why such unprecedented action was taken," Boehner said on Wednesday. "It befuddles me that there could be some justification that would allow them to infringe on the First Amendment to the Constitution."
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., added that Republicans "have plenty of questions" about the seizure of records and how it impacts the press's "First Amendment rights and its ability to enjoy those and to realize those."
And the unfurling dossier of controversies, Cantor added, is "beginning to raise questions...as to the direction of this government, as to whom is this government accountable."
The news conference, delivered against the backdrop of a banner monogrammed with the hashtag "#4jobs," was set up to discuss the Republicans' job-creation agenda, a topic that several of the leaders present discussed despite the preoccupation with controversy.
"We have a twofold job here in the Congress. We need to keep focused on the priorities of the American people," Boehner said, citing job creation as his foremost concern. But in addition to that, he argued, "We have a responsibility under the Constitution to provide oversight of the executive branch and we're going to continue to do both of our jobs as outlined by the Constitution."