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Obama: I didn't know about IRS report

Updated: 2:54 p.m. ET

President Obama said Thursday he had no knowledge about a report concerning controversial IRS practices under investigation until news outlets reported on the subject last Friday, and he vowed to "fix" problems plaguing the agency through a comprehensive examination of what happened and how.

"I can assure you that I certainly did not know anything about the [inspector general] report before the I.G. report had been leaked" to the press, Mr. Obama said Thursday, during a rainy press conference in the White House Rose Garden with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The Obama administration and the IRS have been under harsh scrutiny since Friday, when the agency apologized for having singled out particular groups -- particularly those with tea party ties -- for extra scrutiny when seeking tax-exempt status. On Tuesday, a report was released showing that in the spring of 2010, the IRS began targeting groups with keywords like "Tea Party," "Patriot" and "9/12 Project" in their names to flag for heightened, typically burdensome, scrutiny.

Mr. Obama has repeatedly decried any potential discriminatory behavior at the IRS, and on Wednesday his administration requested and accepted the resignation of acting IRS commissioner Steven Miller. There is no evidence to suggest anyone at the White House had prior knowledge about their practice of targeting conservative groups, but Mr. Obama did not say definitively Thursday that no one at the White House could have known about these IRS activities.

"What I'm absolutely certain of is that the actions that were described in that I.G. report are unacceptable," he said. 

According to White House Spokesman Jay Carney, the White House counsel learned of the IRS targeting last month, but Mr. Obama says he had only learned of it through the press. Asked why he was not informed earlier, by the White House counsel, Mr. Obama noted that "typically the I.G. reports are not supposed to be widely distributed or shared" in order to protect the integrity of the investigation. 

The Justice Department has announced an investigation into the IRS over the controversy, but it remains to be seen whether or not any laws were broken, intentionally or unintentionally, or if anyone will face criminal charges. Regardless, the president vowed to sniff out any "structural or management" issues that may have allowed those activities to take place, as well as to "make sure that we gather up the facts and hold accountable and responsible anybody who was involved in this."

The White House has been dogged in the last week by a series of controversies -- including the IRS targeting, as well as over longstanding questions about the 2012 terrorist attacks in Benghazi, and recent revelations that the justice department seized two months' worth of phone records from the Associated Press. But the president dismissed any comparisons to the scandal-ridden administration of former President Richard Nixon, inviting a reporter who asked about it to "go ahead and read the history, I think, and draw your own conclusions."

"I'll let you guys engage in those comparisons," he said.

Earlier in the press conference, Mr. Obama outlined a series of steps he hopes to take -- with the help of Congress -- to increase protection for American diplomats abroad in the wake of the Benghazi attacks. Those steps, which were outlined in a review board aimed at improving safety conditions for U.S. diplomats serving in dangerous posts, include increases in training, reviewing security practices, improving intelligence and warning capabilities, and ensuring that the military can react swiftly to any threats.

"I am intent on making sure that we do everything we can to prevent another tragedy like this from happening," Mr. Obama said.

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