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MSNBC "Hardball with Chris Matthews" - Transcript


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Congressman, that`s some pretty nasty behavior on the part of Congressman Issa. It seems awfully personal, not substance-driven. What`s your explanation?

REP. PETER WELCH (D), VERMONT: Well, you know, the attorney general`s been sticking up for people, the Republicans don`t necessarily think should be stuck up for. For instance, Hispanics in Arizona against Arizona law that basically targets them. Gays and lesbians, who think they ought to be able to get married and, of course, voters in places like Florida who are having their right to vote somewhat compromise.

So, Eric Holder`s been a target for Republicans, including Mr. Issa.

SMERCONISH: Josh, I see risk for both sides. I see risk on the part of the Republicans because it`s not a jobs issue. People want to know what are you doing about jobs, what are you doing about the economy?

The risk I see relative to the Democratic side of the aisle is the president, in invoking executive privilege, sort of plays into that hand now that there`s something to hide and he`s caught up in it.

How do you assess the politics of what`s transpired?

JOSH GERSTEIN, POLITICO: Well, you`re right. It does bring this story into the White House where it hadn`t been before. It had been an albatross around the neck of Eric Holder and other officials at the Justice Department.

I think another danger for President Obama here is he has tried to put forward this brand of being pro-transparency, being the most open government in history. He`s gotten a lot of flak from the left about not being as opened as he promised to be, and obviously invoking executive privilege doesn`t go along with being totally transparent.

On the other hand, I think you`re right that there is a danger from Republicans, not only in distracting from the main message they have that
the president is no good on the economy, but also that sense that maybe
we`re starting to return to the 1990s when you had things going like Dan
Burton shooting a pumpkin to try to stage what he thought was, you now,
what (INAUDIBLE) about a suicide.

SMERCONISH: Let`s watch what happened last night when Congressman
Darrell Issa`s phone rang in an interview with FOX`s Greta Van Susteren.


GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS: So, you weren`t necessarily getting the pages that you wanted.

That may be the attorney general --

ISSA: If it`s Barack, I`ll tell him we`re not available.


SMERCONISH: Congressman, again, it strikes me that it`s very personal what`s going on on this issue. I can`t help but think that the White House, I mean, they`re smart politically, that they volunteered for this battle because they want to pit themselves against the Congress -- no disrespect to you -- but nothing is worse than the numbers -- the approval ratings of the members of Congress.

WELCH: Well, that`s true, but, you know, I`ll say this. Darrell Issa is very aggressive, but that`s OK. You know, our ranking member, Mr. Cummings, is no slouch in the aggression department.

But if you`re in oversight, aggression has to be tempered with restraint. And the big failings of what Mr. Issa has done in my view are two things. Number one, the subpoena that he sent to the attorney general was so over-broad it was actually requiring him to provide information that if he provided it would have been -- it would have put him in jail.

Grand jury transcripts, he asked for that. That`s illegal to turn over. Transcripts of wiretap applications, that`s against the United States code to turn it over.

So it raises questions about the credibility of what`s really the agenda here. Is it the pursuit of truth or is it a political hit shot? And that is the credibility that the chair of the committee fundamentally has to protect.

Second thing is that the attorney general has actually been very responsive. He`s been in to the Congress eight times to testify, produce thousands of documents. So this is something that could be worked out.

But sometimes you don`t want to take yes for an answer.

SMERCONISH: Josh, Congressman Issa told Rush Limbaugh in 2010 that President Obama was one of the most corrupt presidents in modern times. He
walked it back, then came out with this zinger just two months ago.


ISSA: We`re very busy in Washington with a corrupt government, with a government that I said more than a year ago was perhaps because of the money, because of the amount of stimulus funds was going to be the most
corrupt government in history and it`s proving to be that -- just exactly that.


SMERCONISH: There`s been any number of issues that get raised particularly on the far right about Eric Holder in particular, DOMA, the voter ID laws, Arizona immigration, the issue of where to try.

Here`s the list: DOMA was one of them, voter ID was the second, the Arizona bill was the third. And also, where the 9/11 detainees would be tried. Always coming back on Holder`s watch and serving as a basis of antipathy from the right.

Is it just related to substance? Or is there something else driving this?

GERSTEIN: Well, I think there`s a degree to which Holder has become the favorite punching bag of the right, and perhaps to some degree the stand-in for the president himself. I mean, despite what we saw in the Rose Garden the other day, there are limits in the American society to what you can say about the president and what you can do to the president, and say to his face.

They don`t apply so clearly to members of the cabinet. You can get away with a lot more invective towards members of the cabinet. I think for a lot of the Republicans who feel they can`t beat up the president directly or as harshly as they or their constituents might want to, they feel a lot more liberated going after the attorney general.

SMERCONISH: Quick question, Congressman. I`m very limited on time.

Do you expect members of your party to break ranks when there is a contempt
vote in the House?

WELCH: Well, I certainly hope not. Again, one of the points we made is that we`re open to doing anything to get the information we need. But
why is it Darrell Issa, he`s as refused to let us bring in to testify and get information the Bush administration folks who were in charge when this
whole Fast and Furious operation began.


Congressman Peter Welch, thank you sir. And Josh Gerstein, thank you as well.

GERSTEIN: Thank you.


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