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MSNBC "Hardball with Chris Matthews" - Transcript - IRS Targeting Controversy

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CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: You mean there`s no scandal?

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews up in New York.

"Let Me Start" tonight with this. Once there was a whiff of scandal -- you know, that whiff of scandal over at the IRS? Well, now we learn there`s not even that whiff. No, not even a whiff, no, just one desperate California congressman whose bluff has been called.

And with us tonight, the man who called the bluff, U.S. Congressman Elijah Cummings, ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee. Congressman, thank you about this whole thing. You have produced today a lot of information, a lot of transcripts. Tell us what they show about whether there was a scandal at the IRS, a screw-up, or what.

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D-MD), OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE RANKING MEMBER: It shows, basically, that there was a Republican -- a conservative Republican manager in the Cincinnati office, Chris, who felt that it was his duty to look at certain cases.

And so one of his managers under him said, Look -- this was back in February of 2010 -- said, Look at this case, and I think we -- you know, we need to take a look at it because they are asking for -- to do political activity but they want the tax exemptions.

And so the manager, this conservative Republican -- self-proclaimed, by the way -- said, You know what? You`re right. And he sent the case up to the Washington office of the IRS.

And so, basically, Chris, you know, when you look at all of the transcripts, there has not been one single syllable alleging in any way that the White House was involved in this targeting. But yet and still, our Republican chairman and other chairmen in the House have gone about saying that there was some enemies list and that the administration was not being forthright and that they were involved.

Well, there`s nothing like that. It basically started with one man who believed that he was doing his job. And he so happened to be a conservative Republican, and spent six hours with our committee in an interview, and he was very candid and very honest. And he felt that what he was doing was consistent with what he was supposed to do in the job that he held.

And so you know, you know, I think, basically -- I got sort of tired, Chris, of seeing transcripts being leaked, parts of transcripts being leaked by our chairman, but at the same time, not -- not -- transcripts of this particular gentleman not being put forth so that we could get a complete story.

And all I want to do is make sure that the American people have the complete story.

MATTHEWS: You know, you`re a very humble guy, Congressman. And you`re the ranking member on that committee, ranking Democrat. I got to tell you, you know, we cover the news every hour around here on MSNBC, and this story has been popping around here for more than a month now, the big scandal at IRS. And maybe you`re so much inside that you don`t realize the noise that`s been created by this crazy charge of scandal.

Somebody in the White House, somebody in the campaign, somebody has an enemies list at the White House, somebody got the people, the bureaucrats over there, to go and attack the enemies of the White House, all this, all this, all this is nothing, right?

CUMMINGS: Yes, that`s exactly right.

MATTHEWS: Nothing!

CUMMINGS: That`s exactly right, Chris. The interesting thing, this past weekend, our chairman had various reporters in his offices, reviewing, in some instances, full transcripts and allowing them to see various transcripts. But the interesting thing is that he did not reveal one syllable of the transcript that we released today.

And all -- and I keep telling our chairman and our committee this is about, Chris, integrity.

MATTHEWS: Yes!

CUMMINGS: You know, you could release all the transcripts, for all I care, and we will follow the evidence wherever it leads. But let`s not, you know, cherry pick a few facts, a few lines from a transcript, and then give one impression, when exactly the opposite will be seen if the entire transcript -- of all the transcripts are put out there. And that`s what this was all about, period.

MATTHEWS: Well, it seems to me that it`s worse than just a failure to deliver on a promise. It looks to me, the way the chairman of the committee`s handling this and handling your disclosure today of the statement from the person over there who ran the operation, who said it had nothing to do with politics or anybody outside the IRS...

MATTHEWS: That`s right.

CUMMINGS: ... or even that unit...

CUMMINGS: That`s right.

MATTHEWS: ... it seems to me there`s a cover-up here of what -- instead of a guy looking for a cover-up, there`s a guy committing one. Now, that`s my charge. You don`t have to make it.

But let me hear you -- let`s go through some of the findings here. We now have insight into how this mess all started. The very first case was flagged in Cincinnati, to remind everybody. It was a group manager, the self-identified Republican, actually, who centralized these cases for consistency because they were all similar. In other words, those files for non-exempt -- non-tax-exempt status -- or tax-exempt status were all sort of identified as Tea Party.

It was a Cincinnati-based screener under him that developed the inappropriate screening criteria using terms like "patriot" and 9/12. And the manager didn`t learn about those screening terms until over a year after they were put in place.

You found that, to date, no witnesses have identified any White House involvement here. In other words, this was a technique used, shorthand like we often do in any business, government or non-government, to try to get a job done. It turned out it was tainted because it was generalizing about a group that had a -- groups that had the same name.

MATTHEWS: Yes. And I think, Chris, if you read the transcript, it`s clear that this Republican -- conservative Republican manager, you know, had -- he put his party hat to the side, and he was doing what we would hope that any public employee would do, and that was be independent and do the job according to the law.

And clearly, the IG came back and said there was some mismanagement here. We need some clarity as to tax-exempt status, who should get it, things of that nature. And so, again, here was a man who was trying to do his job, and that`s basically what he said.

MATTHEWS: Well, here`s Darrell Issa. Here`s the chairman of the committee`s reaction to you. I want to know what you think of this. Boy, this is crocodile tears. Quote, "I am deeply disappointed that ranking member Cummings has decided to broadly disseminate and post on line a 205- page transcript that will serve as road map for IRS officials to navigate investigative interviews with Congress. After unsuccessfully trying to convince the American people that IRS officials in Washington did not play a role in inappropriate scrutiny of Tea Party groups and declaring on national television the case of IRS targeting was solved and Congress should move on, this looks like flailing. Americans who think Congress should investigate IRS misconduct should be outraged by Mr. Cummings`s efforts to obstruct needed oversight."

He seems to be implying something that you`ve never said, that you never said that this didn`t have to do with the IRS. He`s planting a strawman here. The charge from him has been from day one, political hanky-panky from the White House. He issues code, like "Washington" all over the place, always the shell game goal to blame it on Obama. And he doesn`t have an iota of proof, does he.

CUMMINGS: No. There is absolutely no proof. People can actually see the transcript. And it`s very clear.

But there`s something bigger than Darrell Issa here. And that, again, Chris, is integrity. We`ve got IRS employees who thought they were doing the right thing. They testified that they believed that they were doing the right thing. But poor management, all kinds of problems within the IRS need to be addressed.

But there was absolutely no -- absolutely no...

MATTHEWS: OK...

CUMMINGS: They said there was no political involvement. White House was not involved. And this fellow, this Republican conservative, acted on his own accord.

MATTHEWS: Now, you say that`s -- we have enough information now to basically recognize this has been a problem that`s contained, never went beyond the IRS operation itself. Why not release -- why haven`t you released all the transcripts of all the interviews conducted by your committee?

CUMMINGS: Great question. I -- you know, I try to defer -- Chris, you worked on the Hill -- to the chairman. I don`t like the releasing of transcripts, to be frank with you. And the only reason we released ours is because we saw the cherry-picking and just part of the story being told. But you know, I`ve told the chairman that I want to sit down with him and to try to determine how best to -- he and I -- to release -- release transcripts in the future. I still have not gotten a response with regard to that. We`ve asked for meetings on it. We`ve gotten no response. And Chris, keep in mind, that before we even released our transcript, the chairman had told -- had said that to do it would be reckless. And so I then asked them, you know, What can we do, what portion of the transcript should we redact so that it won`t be reckless, so that it won`t be a road map.

MATTHEWS: Right.

CUMMINGS: We have not gotten an answer yet.

MATTHEWS: Well, would you like to see him do the appropriate redactions just to protect identity...

CUMMINGS: Oh, yes.

MATTHEWS: ... but would you like to see him basically release the whole shebang?

CUMMINGS: Chris, I think that that is going to...

MATTHEWS: Do you?

CUMMINGS: (INAUDIBLE) I want -- let me tell you what I want, Chris. I want the whole truth, nothing but the truth, period, whatever that takes, and not a one-sided case where the American public is forming opinions about something that is only half there and that is not completely true.

MATTHEWS: Well, just to completely finish this discussion, is there any reason not to release everything?

CUMMINGS: I don`t see a reason not to do that. But again, I`m willing to work with the chairman to do whatever we can to do a responsible investigation and not a witchhunt. Chris, Chairman Issa and I, we are entitled to our opinions. We are not entitled to manufacture facts.

MATTHEWS: I would call more a fishing expedition when you come back in an empty boat. Anyway, thank you, Congressman Elijah Cummings. Great work for you. I think we`ve got this -- at least so far, what I`ve heard from you, sir, it looks to me like this whiff of scandal is not even a whiff. Anyway, thank you much for coming on.

CUMMINGS: Thank you.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT


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