Obama cultivating "culture of cover-ups and intimidation," Cornyn says

(CBS News) Fielding controversies ranging from the attack last Sept. 11 in Benghazi, Libya to the targeting scandal at the Internal Revenue Service, President Obama is cultivating "a culture of cover-ups and intimidation," Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said Sunday on "Face the Nation."

"It seems to be the answer of the administration, whenever they're caught doing something they shouldn't be doing, is 'I didn't know about it' - and it causes me to wonder whether they believe willful ignorance is a defense when it's your job to know," said Cornyn, the No. 2-ranking Republican in the chamber.

"Given the trend line we're seeing here, it's unfortunately a culture, I think, in the administration, that it's okay to cover these things up and part of it has to do with the intimidation that the administration is using against some of its critics," he continued.

In the past week the White House has been dogged by questions about its handling of the strike in Benghazi, news that the Justice Department seized two months of phone records from the Associated Press, and a Treasury inspector general's report that the IRS singled out for excessive review conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.

Full coverage of the IRS targeting controversy

Cornyn said it's "implausible" that the president or some other high-level official at the White House was ignorant to the IRS practice, despite senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer's insistence earlier on the program that Mr. Obama became aware only recently.

"What we do know is that Secretary Lew, the Treasury Secretary, shortly after he was confirmed in March, said he knew about this," Cornyn said, "and the president himself said he didn't learn about it until May 11th when he read it in the newspaper. That's either evidence to me of somebody not doing their job, or the kind of willful ignorance I alluded to earlier, or trying to cover things up."

Two Cincinnati, Ohio-based IRS employees have been disciplined and taken "off reservation" in the wake of the scandal, a congressional source told CBS News, and acting commissioner Steven Miller stepped down last week. Cornyn predicted more high-level agency officials will also be forced to resign.

"Bureaucrats don't take risks unless they have a signal - either explicit or implicit from their higher-ups - that what you're doing is exactly what we expect you to do," he said. "So, I have a very hard time believing that this was something cooked up in Cincinnati from mid-level employees at the IRS. That's just implausible."

Also weighing in on the Justice Department's seizure of two-months-worth of AP phone records - part of the ongoing criminal investigation into who leaked information to the news organization about a foiled terror plot in Yemen - Cornyn argued it's "past time" the president replace Attorney General Eric Holder, who says he recused himself from the investigation. He also called on investigators to shift their focus.

"The national security leaks are very important that we get to the bottom of it," he said. "But what confuses me is the focus on the press who have a constitutional right here, and we depend on the press to get to the bottom of so many issues that we as individuals cannot. Why the focus so much on the press with this broad net they-they cast over reporters and their phone records, rather than focus on the leaker?"

  • Lindsey Boerma On Twitter»

    Lindsey Boerma is senior video producer for CBSNews.com.

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