Meet the Press | May 19, 2013
>>> roundtable. i want to begin with congressman dave camp , republican from mish gap and chairman of the ways and means and is leading the investigation of the irs . you heard dan pfeiffer, who reacted and talk about a culture of cover up. your thoughts.
>> it is tough stuff. americans are targeted for their beliefs and it went on for years. officials at the treasury knew about this a year ago, officials at the irs knew about this two years ago, congress has been trying to get answers for two years and we were stonewalled.
>> stonewalled by the irs it appears?
>> yes. frankly, this is an audit. we still need to have the investigation.
>> but congress requested the i.g. investigation, which you got. you were aware of that, you initiated it and even got some preliminary results about it that darrell issa referred to.
>> no, this is an audit, not an investigation. but the question is why after repeated hearings and letters to the agency when high-ranking officials in the agency knew about it, why did they not come forward? because americans were targeted for their political views , what books they read, what the contents of their prayers were, did they know anyone running for political office ? i don't care what your political strife, but they only targeted conservative political beliefs.
>> which people have stipulated is simply outrageous on both sides, including the president. as people try to figure out what people can and should down, what would you have had the president do and the secretary of treasury do? there are hundreds of audits. imagine the scandal if the president tried to intervene or even fire someone before the results of an audit were completed. you agree you'd be pretty mad about that?
>> there's one thing to meddle, but there's another thing to know about it. what should they have known.
>> if the president knew more earlier, what would have come of that?
>> hopefully it would have been stopped sooner. it went on for 18 months.
>> but it was being investigated. i guess you're saying before even an audit was happening, you would have wanted to know what happened.
>> two years ago the director of the exempt organization division knew of this. did anyone up the chain know about it? we don't know that yet. that's why we have a lot of questions to still answer. we don't know who started this, we don't know why it was allowed to continue for so long. as one of the newspapers reported, a person from in a cincinnati office said we don't do anything without direction here.
>> you have a credible reason to accuse of president of knowing about this targeting?
>> we don't have anything to say that the president knew about this. in fact, he says he learned about it on television. that may be the case. but we need to know who started this and why it was allowed to continue.
>> before i widen this out, both using the irs unfortunately for political reasons goes back many administrations, republican and democrat, and we came across something when it came to resolving some of the ambiguity in the tax code from the "new york times," look at this headline. this goes back from october of 1927 . "seek to simply income tax law as joint committee of congress hopes to makes phraseology of the act clearer." does this mess, does this political targeting give some new impetus to resolving ambiguity in our tax code to the issue of who should be tax exempt ?
>> i think a lot of people feel the tax code is broken, it's not fair, it's inefficient, it's so complex. the average family should be able to fill out their own tax fofrms and file them. it takes the average american 13 hours to comply with the code, 6 billion hours in terms of compliance. i think we need a fairer, platteplat flatter, more efficient tax code . we're working together, we've had the first hearings together in more than 70 years. i think a more efficient and flatter and fairer tabs code would help the economy and help people get the work they need and also maybe get higher wages if they're already working.
>> let me go around the horn now with xavier becerra , bob woodward and peggy noonan . bob woodward , you're no stranger to these controversies in washington. how has the administration handled this this past week?
>> first of all, people are making comparisons to watergate . this is not watergate but there are some people in the administration who have acted as if they want to be nixonian, and that's a very big problem.
>> who and how?
>> pardon? well, i think on the whole benghazi thing. you look at those talking points and, i mean, the initial draft by the cia very explicitly said we know that activists who have ties to al qaeda were involved in the attack. and then you see what comes out a couple of days later and there is no reference to this. this is a business where you have to tell the truth and that did not happen here.
>> peggy noonan , you wrote something that struck me in your column on friday. i want to ask you about it. we are in the midst of the worst washington scandal since water game the reputation of the obama white house has gone from sketchy to sinister. they don't look jerky now, they look dirty. the patina of high-mindedness the president enjoyed is gone. i have to say, peggy , what you don't talk about here is an administration for a man that you work for who led the iran-contra scandal with iran, the secret war and lied to congress and all the rest. overstatement here?
>> i don't think so. i think this is -- what is going on now is all three of these scandals makes a cluster that implies some very bad things about the forthcomingness of the administration and about its ability to at certain dramatic points do the right thing. and i got to tell you, everyone can argue about which of these things is most upsetting, but this irs thing is something i've never seen in my lifetime. it is the revenue gathering arm of the u.s. government --
>> peggy , wait a second.
>> -- going after political --
>> richard nixon specifically directed people to investigate and audit people. of course we've seen if t in our lifetime.
>> but this is so broad and extremely abusive to normal u.s. citizens just looking for their rights.
>> no questions about the egregiousness of it.
>> if it doesn't stop now, it will never stop. and the only way it can stop is if, frankly, a price is paid, if people come forward and they have to tell who did it, why they did it.
>> i'm struck that peggy seems to be more critical than senator mcconnell , who didn't want to use comparisons to watergate and nixon and the like.
>> the president said it was inexcusable what happened at the irs serious miss makes were made, it was wrong and should never happen again. the president already said i'm cleaning up shop. this cannot happen again in one of the agencies that we must have trust in. but as we investigate are we in search of answers or are we in search of scandals? it's a different thing to say what happened in cincinnati with the irs goes all the way to the white house . there is no evidence. in fact, the inspector general who looked into this at the irs said there was no political motivation involved. and quite honestly, i agree with the young senator mcconnell . the reason we have this problem is because we have a tax code that allows groups to use their political operations within the tax code under the guise of a charity to use undisclosed millions of dollars to do political campaigns .
>> i think he would resent that remark, the young mcconnell , even if he agreed with you. there's some news this morning, a new cnn poll that has the president's approval ratings in pretty good territory but also a view there is not an overreaction on the gop, whether on the irs or benghazi and a view whether it's the irs , benghazi or the a.p., a majority saying these are very important issues for the country. so as a matter of how much, congressman, this infects the rest of the president's agenda, what do you see?
>> well, i think that obviously this may increase the need for tax reform because the complexity of the code is such that it's a problem. but let me just in answer to what xavier said, there's nothing in the code or nothing in any supreme court decision that says the irs should target americans for their beliefs.
>> we still don't know who directed this and we're trying to move forward in a bipartisan way to get answers. for two years we've been seeking answers and didn't get them.
>> it's interesting how bureaucracies operate. do they take cues from the president? i use the abu ghraib example. do you think that's a fair criticism here?
>> i think you have to step back and say what's the theory of governing here? and the theory is, it seems, oh, there are investigations of the irs so we can't interfere. there is this leak investigation of the a.p., so we can't get involved. oh, there is an investigation of benghazi so we're not responsible. the president and the executive branch need to govern on a daily basis and you can't purchase immunity from governing.
>> but you can't equate all those things, bob.
>> yeah, you can.
>> you can't say it's okay to tell the president to tell the attorney general in a criminal matter what are you doing?
>> but there is a policy issue here, do you issue this broad-based subpoena on reporters?
>> butt president can't interfere with that.
>> but you need to have a policy set down and there is proper communication between the attorney general and the white house counsel on matters like this.
>> is he president or not? ultimately these are executive agencies which are proving so deeply problematic.
>> you cannot mean the justice department . you cannot mean the sqjustice department.
>> i'm not sure what you mean.
>> isn't that what watergate was in part about, we can't have that kind of political interference, right?
>> i'm not even sure what you mean up.
>> can't tell the attorney general not to investigate something or to investigate something. that's the law.
>> fine. and if you find out the attorney general went too far and you are the president, can you say i think he went to far? i think there are real problems here, we've got to look into it? that's not the thing. the irs thing is really the thing. that involves --
>> the president said it went too far. so those two -- the top officials, the irs acting commissioner is gone. the president --
>> but how are we going to get to the bottom of what happened?
>> absolutely, let's get to the bottom of it. let investigate the facts to prevent it from happening again, you need to know how it happened. i think a lot of people are asking who's watching the store? and is the level of managerial oversight that it rises to the level of wrong doing? i think that's the issue.
>> and how at this point do you try to get to the bottom of who directed what happened at the irs ? because it is a very important question.
>> well, we do need an investigation. there is going to be a continued investigation by the inspector general, as well as congress , who will continue to look at this and bring people forward and get testimony.
>> you agree to a special commissioner, like a former aide, robert gibbs , has suggested.
>> why not an independent council? i watched the other day. i saw mr. miller, the soon to be former head of the irs , look at congress and be essentially unresponsive, be essentially, gee, somebody was responsible, i don't know the name, yes, maybe i can get the name for you. that gives you a sense that maybe congress can't get to the bottom of this. maybe an independent council would be a better route.
>> some institutions have a no-surprise rule, which is you need to make sure the person at the top, who is the president in this case, he is constitutionally responsible for the whole executive branch , to be told about things that are going on that are bad. and you can't kind of say, oh, that happened last year and they're investigating. you need to stop the bad things right away.
>> and the difficulty is this criticism of passivity, as you all are suggesting and i'm challenging you with the other side of that argument but the idea that he is still in charge of the government, has accountability and has to project accountability as we ask all presidents to do.
>> in the irs case it doesn't seem passive. wonderful king strauss of the wall street journal was correct. the president wasn't passive on that. he was giving final word to people who could launch this thing.
>> in this scenario he's in a no-win situation. if he had gone into this faster, people would say he's intruding into a separate investigation.
>> i have to take a break. i have a special visitor, donald rumsfeld , talking about "rumsfeld's rules." i'll go one-on-one with him about some of