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CBS "Face the Nation with Bob Schieffer" - Transcript - National Security and Privacy Rights

Interview

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SCHIEFFER: Thank you so much, Debora. And now, back in Washington, we're joined by the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Congressman Mike McCaul, who's in Austin, and the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, Elijah Cummings; he is in Baltimore. And, gentlemen, we have plenty to talk about. Let's start with these leaks that are coming about. Has NASA, in your view -- or, I should say, the NSA, in your view, Mr. Chairman, overreached with these latest disclosures we're hearing about, about gathering all this data about people's telephones and so on?

MCCAUL: Well, I think that is the issue that Congress will be looking at, providing our oversight responsibilities. Let me say first, though, that this is a -- was a lawful program. It was approved and reviewed by the FISA court. So you had that approval. It has -- the program itself has stopped terrorist attacks in the past, including the 2009 New York subway bombing plot by Mr. Zazi. But, on the other hand, it does raise concerns, I think, on several levels. One was, when I was a counterterrorism federal prosecutor, we could take the number and run them through the phone companies, through a national security letter or subpoena. Now what has happened is they have literally taken all these phone records and maintained them, taken them out of the private sector and maintained them in the public sector within the NSA. And I think that gives a lot of Americans great pause and great concern. And lastly, if I could just say, the optics are terrible in this case when you consider the latest scandals, whether it be the IRS targeting conservatives, whether it be the AP being targeted by the Justice Department, and the Fox News reporters. It really makes you wonder -- you have to ask yourself this question, is can you trust this administration with your phone records?

SCHIEFFER: Well, I guess I would ask you, then, do you believe that they ought to be curtailed, even if it is legal now, as you say? Have they gone too far? Should new steps be taken to restrict the government in being able to do this?

MCCAUL: Again, I think it's the warehousing of all the phone records from all the major carriers within the federal government is what gives most people the great concern. I think it could be run through the private sector as we used to do it, and that's something I think we'll be looking at in the Congress. You know, I think there's a fix to this. On the other hand, you know, look, this program, you're talking about national security; you're talking about protecting American lives, and that's our number one mission.

SCHIEFFER: All right. Well, let me get to Mr. Cummings. What's your take on this, Congressman?

CUMMINGS: I tell you, first of all, I voted against the Patriot Act, and one of the reasons why I voted against it is because I was afraid of unintended consequences. Here we have a situation where we clearly -- since 9/11 -- clearly, we have to be very, very cognizant of a threat to our people and -- and -- coming from afar or within our borders. But at the same time we have to make sure that we guard our Bill of Rights and guard the Constitution. That right to privacy is extremely important to Americans. So a lot of this information, of course, is classified. We're going to be having a briefing in Congress come Tuesday where we'll get even more information. But I've got to tell you, I understand that the balance has to be struck. I looked at the president's presentation in defending this. But I think we have gone too far and I think, again, we're now open for debate. I want the -- to have that debate, and hopefully we'll strike the appropriate balance.

SCHIEFFER: All right.

CUMMINGS: But, you know, the question then, Bob, becomes, how far does it go? I mean, how -- I mean, if this becomes the normal now, what's going to be the normal tomorrow?

SCHIEFFER: All right. Mr. Cummings, I also want to ask you about this outrage in Washington over reports that the White House is using the IRS to go after conservative groups. This is the charge made by the chairman of your committee, Darrell Issa, who you say has accused the White House of not only doing it but is now -- he says they are lying about it. You sent a strong letter to him. What's that all about?

CUMMINGS: Yeah, well, Chairman Issa has a tendency to make strong allegations and then go chasing the facts and usually never finding them. We have a situation here where we now have interviewed the manager of the exec office in Cincinnati of the IRS. He is a conservative, 21-year veteran who spent six hours with our committee the other day talking in an interview. And he explained to us that this Tea Party situation started with one case back in 2010. Somebody -- one of his screeners brought it to him; he looked at it and said -- he said, "We must send this to the technical office in Washington because this is high-profile; this is a unique situation, and we want to have consistency." So Washington IRS technical office did not ask him for the case; he sent it. And keep in mind what I said, Bob, this was a 21-year veteran and he termed himself a conservative Republican. And so...

SCHIEFFER: All right, well are you -- are you saying that the chairman of your committee is a liar?

CUMMINGS: Oh, no, I would never do that. I think that -- I think those kinds of words are inappropriate in our -- on Capitol Hill. What I am saying is what I've said to him over and over again, we must maintain the integrity of our committee and of our work product. And -- and in order to do that, we cannot make these wild accusations, Bob, and then not be able to back them up. Because then, when we say anything, people begin to question it. Again, I -- and I can tell you that, in this case, Chairman Issa, with all due respect, is absolutely wrong. This Republican...

SCHIEFFER: OK.

CUMMINGS: No, no, no, let me finish. This Republican manager said there was no White House involvement, no political involvement, none of that. He made the decision doing the best he could to have some kind of consistency.

SCHIEFFER: All right, I want to go back to Chairman McCaul quickly. James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, says these leaks investigations -- he is asking now for a criminal investigation of this. Do you think that's necessary?

MCCAUL: Well, I do. This is probably one of the most highly sensitive programs out there in the executive branch and for the United States to protect American lives. And -- and the fact of the matter is somebody leaked this information, putting the -- not only the court orders, slide show presentations and very sensitive data out there on the internet. This is the kind of thing that while some may applaud the person for doing that and it will give us a chance to provide additional oversight into what the administration is doing, I do think in terms of when you look at national security law that this was a serious breach and a serious violation.

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