Claims 'I don't know the circumstances' regarding how or why oil agency chief resigned

At a press conference Thursday afternoon, President Obama claimed the government has been "singularly focused" on stopping and containing the BP leak since it began over five weeks ago.

The president, who has been facing criticism from Republicans and even some Democrats, said that the notion that the administration has been "sitting on the sideline" was false and that critics didn't have all the "facts."

The Associated Press reports Obama "moved aggressively to show his government is in charge of the Gulf oil spill on Thursday, calling the spill an 'unprecedented disaster' and blasting a 'scandalously close relationship' between oil companies and regulators."

"The American people should know that from the moment this disaster began, the federal government has been in charge of the response effort," Obama said, "responding to criticism that his administration had been slow to act and had left BP in charge of plugging the leak," the AP notes.

"Obama held a full East Room news conference on the oil spill Thursday afternoon -- his first such session with reporters in nearly a year," The Washington Post notes.

After describing the latest "top kill" effort to plug the leak, Obama pledged to help the people along the Gulf Coast who have been affected by the catastrophe, promising "We're not going to abandon our fellow citizens." He also promised that BP would be held "fully accountable."

Aides insist that the government is doing everything it can to hold BP accountable for the spill and to assist the company's frantic effort to stanch the flow of oil at the bottom of the sea. But from the beginning, Obama officials have been forced to work with BP because the oil company, not the government, has the technology and expertise to work at those depths.

Obama noted that Gulf state governors asked him to report that "except for three beaches in Louisiana, all of the Gulf's beaches are open, they are safe and they are clean."

The AFP reports,

After reviewing an Interior Department report into the massive oil spill, Obama outlined four tough steps to stop such an accident happening again.

"First, we will suspend the planned exploration of two locations off the coast of Alaska. Second, we will cancel the pending lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico and the proposed lease sale off the coast of Virginia," Obama told a press conference.

"Third, we will continue the existing moratorium and suspend the issuance of new permits to drill new deepwater wells for six months.

"And four, we will suspend action on 33 deepwater exploratory wells currently being drilled in the Gulf of Mexico."

Claims 'I don't know the circumstances' regarding how or why oil agency chief resigned

When asked about the sudden resignation of the director of the US Minerals Management Service Elizabeth Birnbaum -- which was reported by the AP just hours before the press conference -- the president denied any knowledge regarding it.

"I don't know the circumstances" regarding how or why the oil agency chief resigned, President Obama claimed.

As RAW STORY noted earlier Thursday, the initial AP report claimed she was fired, before it was amended to state that Democratic sources were saying that she was instead "pushed out."

"I had a whole bunch of other stuff going on," Obama said when asked by an incredulous reporter about the "resignation."

"You're assuming it was a firing," Obama told her, after she argued that it wasn't a resignation.

All morning long Thursday, the conservative Drudge Report carried the following headline linking to an ABC news article which detailed Obama's plans for the day before the press conference: "Things Obama Is Doing Instead of Going to Gulf: Duke Photo, Lunch with Bill, Vacation...."

Obama told Fox News' Major Garrett that the administration will be soon releasing a full response to the controversy regarding an alleged job offer made to Pennsylvania Democratic candidate Joe Sestak to help out Senator Arlen Specter before he lost the primary.

"I can assure the public that nothing improper took place.," Obama added.