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NBC "Meet the Press" - Transcript - IRS Targeting and Benghazi


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GREGORY: Appreciate it very much.

I want to turn now to the top Republican in the Senate Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. Senator, welcome back.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY, Republican Leader): Good morning.

GREGORY: Let me get right to it and start on the IRS. Why don't you accept the word from not only White House officials but from former acting commissioner who said, these were foolish mistakes about targeting con-- conservative groups, but there is not evidence of a political agenda?

SEN. MCCONNELL: Actually, there is a culture of intimidation throughout the administration. The IRS is just the most recent example. Let me just recount a few for your audience. Over at HHS, back during the Obamacare debate, Secretary Sebelius sent out a directive to health insurance companies telling them they couldn't inform their policyholders of what they thought the impact of Obamacare would be on them. Now she's trying to shake them down for contributions in effect to a group to go out and try to convince the public that they should love Obamacare. Over at the FCC, there have been efforts by Obama appointees to-- to shut down or make difficult people who are seeking to buy advertising to criticize the administration. Over at the SEC, the Obama appointees have been engaged in an effort to make it difficult for corporations to exercise their First Amendment, political rights. The IRS-- coming back to the IRS. The head of the union at the IRS gives 99 percent of her campaign money to Democrats. She openly criticizes the Republican House for trying to reduce government spending and has specifically targeted Tea Party groups in her public comments. It's no wonder that the agents and the IRS sort of get the message. The president demonizes his opponent. The head of their union demonizes the people…

GREGORY: But Senator, that-- that was a leap…

SEN. MCCONNELL: …who think that…

GREGORY: …that's a leap that can you make as argument, but you don't have fact to back it up. You can create and I just asked…

SEN. MCCONNELL: Well, the investigation…

GREGORY: …I asked Dan Pfeiffer about it. You can you talk about a culture. Do you have any evidence that the President of the United States directed what you call a culture of intimidation at the IRS to target political opponents?

SEN. MCCONNELL: I-- I don't think we know what the facts are. All I can tell you is…

GREGORY: But that hasn't stopped you from-- from accusing.

SEN. MCCONNELL: Well, what we're talking about here is an-- an attitude that the government knows best, the nanny state is here to tell us all what to do and if we start criticizing, you get targeted.

GREGORY: But let me just…


GREGORY: …stop you for a second, when you talk about the nanny state.

SEN. MCCONNELL: Look-- look, David. David, let me finish.

GREGORY: It is interesting going back to…

SEN. MCCONNELL: David, let me finish. David, let me finish. The investigation has just begun. So I'm not going to reach a conclusion about what we may find, but what we do know happened is they were targeting Tea Party groups. We know that.

GREGORY: We do know that. And the question is how it initiated, who initiated it and-- and how high that goes.

SEN. MCCONNELL: Sure. That's why you have investigations.

GREGORY: Right. Back in 19-- it's interesting. The larger issue here, as some have pointed out, is the existence of these groups, 501(c)(4) groups, who get tax-exempt status, be them conservative or liberal groups and-- and the issue here is that it seems only conservative groups were targeted. And they-- they are involved in politics but they're also involved in some kind of social good. And I guess that's in the eye of the beholder. You were asked about this issue way back in 1987. And I want to play for you what you said then and-- and ask you if it's resonant today.

(Videotape; C-SPAN, June 11, 1987)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): There are restrictions now on the kinds of activities that, for example, a 501(c)(3) and (4) organizations-- charitable organizations can engage in. They're being abused not just by people on the right but most of the so-called charitable organizations who are involved in political activity in this country who are, in my judgment, involved in arguable violations of their tax-free status and violations of the campaign laws happen to be groups on the left. So that is a problem.

(End videotape)

GREGORY: So that is-- that was a problem then and some are arguing it's-- it's a problem now as well. Is there-- out of all of this, do you see more tax reform that addresses whether any of these groups should be tax exempt?

SEN. MCCONNELL: It's not whether you have to go back 25 years to find a quote. What-- what we have seen here is an effort on the part of the government to make it difficult for citizens to get organized and to express themselves. There's an effort here also to make sure that you can get their donor list or their membership list. It's reminiscent of NAACP versus Alabama back in 1958 where the state of Alabama tried to get the membership list and the donor list of the NAACP. The Supreme Court said under the First Amendment, freedom of association, you can't have it. There's an effort here in Congress called a Disclose Act to try to get at the donors of these groups. I was wrong 25 years ago, I've been right for the last two decades. The government should not be trying to intimidate citizens who criticize the government from exercising their First Amendment Rights. And that's what it is-- is at the heart of this and that's what the IRS apparently was doing by making it difficult for citizens to get a legitimate tax-exempt status.

GREGORY: But-- but I'm saying should these groups if they're that politically involved, and that's what you identified 25 years ago is if they're that politically involved, they just shouldn't have tax-exempt status. Should it be-- should the tax code be simpler in this arena to-- to eliminate these questions?

SEN. MCCONNELL: No, I don't think so. I think the citizens groups there, you know, have a right to organize, to express themselves and not have their donor list be subjected to federal government supervision and oversight, because there's no question. It's clear now. Twenty-five years ago, it wasn't clear but it's clear now that the reason these donor lists and donors are-- are trying to be revealed is so the federal government can target them and shut them up.

GREGORY: Mm-Hm. Let me ask you about these AP phone records. This is probably one area where I imagine that you would actually be supportive of what the administration has done, despite some of the criticism because you've expressed your outrage in the past and-- and you've pushed for an investigation of national security leaks.

SEN. MCCONNELL: Actually, I do think these national security leaks are very important and it looks to me like this is an investigation that needs to happen because national security leaks, of course, can get our agents overseas killed.

GREGORY: So you don't think that this is a scandal plaguing the administration and are you supportive of-- of Eric Holder as attorney general in light of all of this?

SEN. MCCONNELL: What I am supportive of is investigating national security leaks that endanger Americans around the world.

GREGORY: So would this qualify this seizure of AP phone records?

SEN. MCCONNELL: What I-- we-- we don't know yet what has happened here. What I do think is that national security leaks that endanger Americans around the world are a serious matter.

GREGORY: But I'm just asking, you have no reason then to doubt or do you what the attorney general says that they absolutely do-- did endanger lives in this case.

SEN. MCCONNELL: What I'm saying is national security leaks that endanger Americans around the world are a serious matter.

GREGORY: Okay. Including this one?

SEN. MCCONNELL: Any time you are leaking national security information…


SEN. MCCONNELL: …it endangers Americans around the world, it's a serious matter.

GREGORY: I think it's clear what you're saying. I want to move on to Benghazi and some of the questions that Republicans have been asking about this. If-- if you look at this, as objectively as you can, it appears to be a-- a-- an episode of a failure on the part of the administration to adequately secure an overseas outpost compound-- diplomatic compound at a time of war when we have been involved in-- in getting rid of Qaddafi in Libya. And, perhaps, at the very worst, some effort by the administration to spin what the actual cause was of the attack. Why does it go anywhere beyond that?

SEN. MCCONNELL: Well, that's not insignificant. I mean, the fact that the personnel there were not adequately secured is…


SEN. MCCONNELL: …is not insignificant. Clearly, we didn't have enough security there to protect our ambassador and the people on the ground there.

GREGORY: Right. But-- but-- but-- but…

SEN. MCCONNELL: And it's also…

GREGORY: …but Republicans are talking about a massive cover-up. So no-- I mean, the president has said that's very significant, but Republicans are talking about a massive cover-up, they're talking about impeachment, they're talking-- I mean, all of these things that seem sort of over the top, um, with regard to what's happening here.

SEN. MCCONNELL: I don't think I've said any of those things. I-- I think you're talking about others may have said various things about this.


SEN. MCCONNELL: Let me tell you how-- what I think about it. It's clear that there was inadequate security there and it's very clear that it was inconvenient within six weeks of the election for the administration to, in effect, announce that it was a-- a terrorist attack. I think that's worth examining. It is going to be examined. And it's important when, you know, this is the first time we've had an ambassador killed in the line of duty since the late 70s.

GREGORY: I do-- well, I want to clarify this because you are the leader of the Republicans in the Senate. You're one of the leading Republicans in America. Do you-- would you call on Republicans who talk about impeaching the president or who talk about this as a Nixonian style cover-up with regard to Benghazi? Would you like them to stop it?

SEN. MCCONNELL: Well, what I think we ought to do is complete the investigation and found out-- and find out what exactly happened. And I think we have a sense of what happened. We know there was inadequate security. We know an American ambassador and three other brave Americans got killed, and we know the administration kind of made up a tale here in order to make it seem like it wasn't a-- a terrorist attack. I think that's worthy of investigation and the investigations ought to go forward.

GREGORY: But do you have specific evidence that they made up a tale or was it based on information they had at the time?

SEN. MCCONNELL: Well, the talking points clearly were not accurate. And I think getting to the bottom of that is an important investigation.

GREGORY: But I just want to-- I just want to come back to this because I think it's important which you've made a point of saying what you have not said about all of this. There are Republicans in an organized fashion, accusing the president of being Nixonian, of comparing things to Watergate and Iran Contra. Aren't you saying that you think that's overblown?

SEN. MCCONNELL: Well, I can speak for myself. And what I'm saying is this is an investigation into what happened in Benghazi that is worth conducting. It's important to find out what happened and that investigation is under way.

GREGORY: Your-- your colleague from Kentucky Rand Paul says that Benghazi singularly should disqualify Hillary Clinton from being president. Do you share that view?

SEN. MCCONNELL: Oh, my goodness. The 2016 elections are a long way away and we don't even know who the candidates are going to be.
GREGORY: Right, but the question still stands.

SEN. MCCONNELL: Look, it's way too early to be talking about the 2016 election in my opinion. We're in the middle of investigating a number of different parts of this administration. There's an obvious culture of intimidation about and directed toward critics of the administration. All of these things are important to take a look at. And we're going to do that.

GREGORY: Do you think that Hillary Clinton was culpable for what happened in Benghazi?

SEN. MCCONNELL: I think we'll find out when the investigation is completed. Who did what and who knew what and when?

GREGORY: Will this-- these issues, all of them, two of them, that you are concerned about, will they be fodder for your campaign next year? Do you think it's important for Republicans to campaign on these issues to target President Obama and Democrats?

SEN. MCCONNELL: You know, I don't know what the issues will be next year. If I were predicting what's likely to be the biggest issue in the 2014 election, I think it would be Obamacare. I think it's coming back big time. And by the way, the IRS has a role to play in the implementation of Obamacare, which is another reason why if we had the opportunity to do it, we ought to pull it out root and branch, the single worst piece of legislation that's been passed in modern times in this country. And the American people are beginning to learn as their premiums go up, as jobs are lost, the full effect of this on our slow growth economy has been enormous. I-- I think that's likely, frankly, David, to be the biggest issue next-- in 2014 and maybe others.


SEN. MCCONNELL: And some of these issues may arise as well.

GREGORY: Leader McConnell, I always appreciate you coming back to answer the questions you like and the ones you don't like, the tough ones as well and I appreciate it. And we'll see you soon.

SEN. MCCONNELL: Okay. Thanks.


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