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CNN "The Situation Room" - Transcript - AP Wiretapping

Interview

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BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

BLITZER: All right, we're just getting this into THE SITUATION ROOM, calling it a quote, "massive and unprecedented intrusion," the Associated Press now saying the Justice Department secretly obtained two months of phone records of its reporters and editors. According to the AP report, the government hasn't even said why it wanted the records. U.S. Officials have said in the past that the U.S. Attorney is conducting a criminal investigation into who may have leaked information to the Associated Press for a May 2012 story about a foiled al Qaeda plot to blow up an airliner. The U.S. Attorney's office has just issued a lengthy statement responding, in part -- and I'll read it to you -- "We take seriously our obligations to follow all applicable laws, federal regulations and Department of Justice policies when issuing subpoenas for phone records of media organizations. Those regulations require us to make every reasonable effort to obtain information through alternative means before even considering a subpoena for the phone records of a member of the media."

That statement just coming in from the U.S. Attorney's office.

Let's talk about this, Benghazi, the IRS scandal that's going on right now.

The Republican congressman, Darrell Issa of California, is joining us.

He's the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Congressman, Mr. Chairman, thanks very much for coming in.

REP. DARRELL ISSA (R-CA), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE OVERSIGHT AND GOVERNMENT REFORM COMMITTEE: Well, thanks for having me on.

And I think leading off with this very disturbing revelation that this sneak and peek kind of approach was done, you can imagine if Congress wanted to know about leaks that obviously came out of the administration that ended up in the press, they would be outraged if we tried to get that information. But that's exactly what they're doing is they're looking at what is considered to be confidential. People wanted the Pentagon papers, too, but it didn't mean you could look behind the doors broadly the way they're doing.

BLITZER: So are you going to be investigating this Justice Department -- what the AP says was a secret intrusion, obtaining two months of phone records from reporters and editors?

Is -- are you adding this now to your list of items on your agenda?

ISSA: Well, Wolf, I have a fairly full plate.

BLITZER: I know you do.

ISSA: I serve on the Judiciary Committee. And from a Constitutional standpoint, the First Amendment, it's very clear that Judiciary will have the lead on this and Chairman Goodlatte and I will be happy to work together. And a lot of times, that's where it belongs.

And this is a Constitutional question, and a question of DOJ, once again.

BLITZER: If, in fact, they suspected, Eric Holder's Justice Department, that there were leaks going to the AP, were they justified in going ahead and secretly monitoring phone calls that the reporters and editors were engaged in?

ISSA: I think one of the amazing things is they have the ability to listen very transparently to all the government phones and government activities. And, again, you said it in it your opening, they had an obligation to look for every other way to get it before they, in fact, intruded on the freedom of the press.

BLITZER: The AP issued a statement: "There could be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of the telephone communications of the Associated Press and its reporters. These records potentially reveal communications with confidential sources across all of the news gathering activities undertaken by the AP during a two month period provide a road map to AP's newsgathering operations and disclose information about AP's activities and operations that the government has no conceivable right to know. We regard this action by the Department of Justice as a serious interference with AP's constitutional rights to gather and report the news."

That's a pretty tough statement.

Now, Eric Holder -- you're no great fan of the attorney general, as a lot of our viewers know. He's the attorney general. He's in charge of the Justice Department.

Would you want to question him, as far as this decision to secretly record phone conversations, monitor phone conversations of AP reporters and editors?

ISSA: If this question went to the attorney general, then he's responsible and he should be held accountable for what I think is wrong.

On the other hand, if it didn't go to him, the question is, when is the Justice Department going to take responsibility for what it does, whether it's Tom Perez and the scandal they had in St. Paul, or this, or, quite frankly, the fact they're still behind -- standing behind the courts, trying not to deliver the answer, in the case of Fast and Furious, to the cover-up of how they lied to Congress and deceived the American people for months.

There are serious problems at DOJ. This is just the latest one.

BLITZER: All right. I know there are going to be a lot more on this story coming in. But once again, AP disclosing that their phone records were monitored for a couple of months secretly by the justice department. Look, as journalists, all of us don't like this kind of stuff. And let's get some more information to see what's going on.

ISSA: And it's got a chilling effect on the ability for you to get information from people who don't want to be public.

BLITZER: All right. Let's talk about Benghazi right now. The president was very blunt today, as you saw. I'll play a couple of clips of what the president had to say about your investigation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The whole issue of this -- of talking points, frankly, throughout this process has been a sideshow. The e-mails that you allude to were provided by us to Congressional committees. They reviewed them several months ago, concluded that, in fact, there was nothing afoul in terms of the process that we had used, and, suddenly, three days, ago this gets spun up as if there's something new to the story. There's no "there" there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. There's no "there" there. He couldn't be more blunt.

ISSA: He couldn't be more blunt and more inaccurate. First of all, he used the plural. As far as I know only the slight intelligence committee received this, and they received it simply a question of what did the CIA know in their talking points? More importantly, had we received this, we would have recognized immediately that there was a progression from truth to lie in 12 changes.

BLITZER: The talking points that eventually were released to Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, when she went out a few days later after September 11th, after the attack in Benghazi, and when she suggested it was the result of this angry reaction to this YouTube anti-Muslim video as opposed to Ansar al- Shari al Qaeda affiliate attack.

ISSA: Exactly, Wolf. And I think the important thing for the American people to understand, we're working with a fledgling country we just helped save, and we managed to have on "face the nation," the president of Libya calling it what it was, a premeditated September 11th attack on America and our ambassador to the U.N. saying that he either didn't know what he was talking about.

He was lying effectively by saying just the opposite. Nothing could be diplomatically dumber when we need to work with the Libyans to get the investigation. You know, the fact is, you have a backdrop of a picture and your own people picked up evidence that the FBI never got. They never got because they weren't allowed in for three weeks.

They weren't allowed in for three weeks according to the acting ambassador in no small part because of strained relations.

BLITZER: Strained relations between the U.S. and Libya because of what Ambassador Rice suggesting that the leader of Libya didn't know what he was talking about.

ISSA: That was Gregory Hicks. He was the acting ambassador's opinion and he said so under oath.

BLITZER: Yes. We know when he testified before your committee last week. I'm going to play another clip of what the president said today. Let's discuss.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: So, the whole thing defies logic, and the fact that this keeps on getting churned out, frankly, has a lot to do with political motivations. They've used it for fundraising. And, frankly, if anybody out there wants to actually focus on how we make sure something like this does not happen again, I am happy to get their advice and information and counsel.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. So, the accusation is that this is just political motivation on your part, you trying to embarrass the president.

ISSA: Wolf, the election's over. We had a serious hearing with serious career state department officials. I opened up that hearing by asking Gregory Hicks, a 22-year veteran and the man who took the last phone call from the ambassador in which Ambassador Stevens said, "Greg, we're under attack." He relayed that and his impression that it was a premeditated attack to the operations center at the state department within minutes.

Those kinds of statements aren't political. These people that were in front of our committee are not political. At some point, claiming politics is simply the wrong approach. There were three problems in Benghazi. They asked for more security. They got less. They asked for relief for seven hours and there was not an effective relief plan from outside of Tripoli or outside Libya.

And afterwards, the American people got false statements before they got the truth. You can't rewrite any of that. What you can do is say, let's fix it so it never happens again.

BLITZER: Do you know why the ambassador, Chris Stevens, was even in Benghazi on the anniversary of 9/11, knowing security there was limited, knowing the British had pulled out, the Red Cross Had pulled out? What was he doing there to begin with? Who made that decision for him to go to Benghazi?

ISSA: Well, Ambassador Stevens was a very brave man and he had been in Benghazi, and they loved and respected him. But, he was there, according to Gregory Hicks, in no small part because Secretary Clinton planned on making Benghazi a permanent consulate facility. She planned on announcing that potentially with a trip to Libya in December.

The ambassador was doing the work he had to do, even though there'd been reports that things were getting worse, not better, and so on. We may never know everything that the ambassador hoped to accomplish in a day or two basically in Benghazi. What we know is that he took four additional people with him.

He had more security, not less security. Had he not been there and the same attack had occurred, they would have simply gotten through the walls faster and we still could have lost many lives.

BLITZER: Mr. Chairman, hold on a minute. Don't go away. I want to talk about the IRS scandal that's unfolding right now as well. President Obama's vowing to hold the IRS accountable for the targeting of conservative groups. Congressman Issa, he's is standing by to weigh in on that when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. We're joined once again by Darrell Issa. He's the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Let's talk about this IRS scandal. When I say it's a scandal, the president of the United States, himself, said today this is outrageous, should never have happened. He only found out about it Friday through the press reports. Here's the question, do you believe him?

ISSA: I take him at his word. None of us would have gotten to this if Jim Jordan, one of the subcommittee chairman, hadn't come to me and demanded that we get to the bottom of this. We wrote, we asked, we called in the IG, we asked him to investigate. He didn't think there was anything there, but he did the investigation. And what he's discovered is far more than what you already know.

The scandal here includes the fact that this was once fixed. Once fixed. They went to Cincinnati. They said, you got to stop doing that. They left, they reinstituted the same search points.

BLITZER: In other words, they were looking for any groups that had Tea Party our patriot --

ISSA: Constitution.

BLITZER: -- words like that. And so, you're saying, they'd stopped it, but then, they renewed it.

ISSA: They renewed it.

BLITZER: Here's the question, why?

ISSA: Well, obviously, they thought this was an effective tool. Now, the amazing thing is, as far as we know today, many of these groups -- and we want to hear from these -- many of these groups still don't have their status.

BLITZER: Their tax exempt status.

ISSA: Their tax exempt status. Well, groups on the left were running right through. Remember, there's only one place in America. You apply for the status, it goes to Cincinnati. So, when people say it was isolated, no. This was America's place to get the status. And those who wanted to advocate the bill of rights, the constitution, patriotism, smaller government found themselves delayed or denied while other groups apparently found themselves rushing through.

But Wolf, there's a bigger issue here. This could have been Martin Luther King a generation ago. This could have been the left during the Vietnam War. We have to make sure that the control systems that are not in place when we're done, when ways and means, the committee of primary jurisdiction, we have to make sure this can't happen again.

And right now, the IG's report is going to say in no uncertain terms the control systems are not there to protect the American people.

BLITZER: So, will your committee investigate, ways and means? Who is going to investigate do the oversight in the House of Representatives?

ISSA: Well, we're going to do it with Ways and Means. They have specific jurisdiction, including the ability to look at these applications in real-time. As a matter of fact, they've had many of these applications for a while. We requested the inspectors general to do his report, we work with him and the other IGs regularly. Our intention is to continue working with them.

We're the investigation and the organizational committee, but when it's all said and done, the constant oversight, the special role, will be the Ways and Means Committee and Dave Camp. And it has to be. Chairman Camp has to take a role in reforming the IRS.

BLITZER: All right. So, bottom line as far as the IRS situation is concerned, at this point, you don't know as far as how high this went, the decision to go after Tea Party groups or groups that had the word patriot or whatever in their name?

ISSA: We don't know how high it went. What we know -- and this is the disturbing part is it was discovered and it continued. It was discovered and stopped and it continued. And the whole time that was going on, there were that was denials going on.

But with hundreds of groups finding themselves delayed or denied at least 72 apparently still denied, what we have -- excuse me -- is we have a situation in which, if you were conservative, you wanted smaller government, you wanted patriotism, and you wanted, perhaps, to tell people what the meaning of the constitution is, you found yourself locked out, while if you wanted to advocate candidly for the president's party, you were more likely to be approved.

That's really disturbing and should be disturbing to people who don't want to, someday, have the shoe on the other foot.

BLITZER: A lot of these investigations are going to explode, I suspect, the IRS, Benghazi, the justice department secretly taking a look at AP reporters and editors', their phone conversations. You did the "fast and furious" investigation. I suspect, you still have some issues as far as that is concerned.

ISSA: We do, Wolf, but there's a lesson here, which is government is hard. It's big and it's hard to run. And if you're going to get the bureaucracy, forgetting about politics, if you're going to get the bureaucracy to behave, it takes the House, the Senate, and the White House working together.

That's been one of the problems is that this transparent government hasn't understood that we serve a constructive role if they'll let us, and that's one of the challenges for the second term of the president is, can he understand that we want to work with him on real reform, we want to work with him on helping get the bureaucracy to deliver a better product that it currently does?

BLITZER: Darrell Issa is the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Mr. Chairman, thanks for coming in.

ISSA: Thank you, Wolf.

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