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CNN "The Situation Room" - Transcript - AP Wiretapping and IRS Targeting Controversy


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BLITZER: We've just received the report -- the final report from the Treasury Department's inspector general for tax administration. They have done an audit of the IRS targeting conservative political groups, conservative organizations, Tea Party organizations, other conservative organizations, and it's damning. The report is very, very damning. Among the headlines, that the IRS began using what they call "inappropriate criteria" to identify organizations applying for tax- exempt status. And they make specific recommendations.

Earlier, you heard the attorney general of United States saying that he's beginning an investigation into what's going on.

Dana Bash, our chief Congressional correspondent, is checking into all of this.

She's going through this lengthy audit by the inspector general of the Treasury Department. She's going to have a full report momentarily. Stand by for that.

Just a little while ago, by the way, I spoke with Congressman Elijah Cummins of Maryland.

He's the senior Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

I asked him first about those -- the collections of those Associated Press phone records that the Justice Department has been engaged in.


REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: It is alarming to me. I mean, the fact that you're talking about 20 -- over 20 folks in -- in two months, and getting all kinds of information with regard to A.P. It gives me concerns, because I'm concerned about freedom of the press, First Amendment rights.

At the same time, I also listened to what Eric Holder had to say about all of this. And he says that there's a criminal investigation going on. And as a lawyer, Wolf, I can appreciate that.

If he's talking about

And death and Americans possibly being, harmed, I -- I think -- I -- I -- I just don't know. I -- I think that we need more -- I still think we need more information, Wolf, as to I know he is very clear and I -- I know Eric Holder well. And I know he's a very credible person.

But I've got to -- I've got to see more, because, again, that -- this is chilling as far as the press is concerned. And I think that all Americans understand that we've got to protect and defend our democracy at every level.

And -- and as I say in our committee all the time, this is our watch and we have a duty to make sure we guard that constitution and our democracy. So, again, I'm hoping that more information will come out. I understand the U.S. attorney for D.C., Washington, D.C. is handling this matter. Eric Holder said he's recused himself. So, hopefully, we'll get some answers, and at the same time, not jeopardize the criminal investigation.

BLITZER: Let's move on to the -- another investigation that Eric Holder announced today, potentially, a criminal investigation into the IRS and its decision, apparently, to go ahead and target conservative political groups, Tea Party groups, groups that had the word "patriot" or "patriots" name in there.

Now, a formal investigation is under way to see if any laws were broken. Congressman, based on what you know, do you suspect laws were actually broken?

CUMMINGS: Yes. Laws were probably broken, but at the least, Wolf, there have been some improper actions on the part of the IRS. If it is not against the law, we need to create some laws to make it so. I got to tell you, no matter what the organization is, I don't think that any organization should be singled out for some treatment that's different than what is demanded by the law and the regulations.

If this -- I would say the same thing, if this were the NACP or whether it was a conservative group does not matter. Again, we have to guard our constitution. We have to guard our rights. And when people are treated unfairly, I've got a problem with that. I don't care where it is. And so, again, what I think we can do, some things ourselves. I understand the ways and means of the House is going to be -- the committee is going to be having a hearing on -- come Friday.

I'd love for my committee to have a hearing on this. And I want to hear what Mr. Shoeman has to say, the former director. I want to know what the acting director has to say, because I have great concerns about what they know -- knew, when they knew it, and what, if anything they did about it, whether or not they were honest with the Congress.

And so, I want to hear all of that. But I got to tell you, this is one of the most alarming things that I have ever seen and I'm very concerned about it. We got to get to the bottom of it. And by the way, Wolf, we got to do it in a bipartisan way.

BLITZER: I agree totally. You got to do it in a bipartisan way. The other question out there that we don't know the answer at this point is if it goes outside of the IRS, if there were others -- other agencies, divisions, if there were officials at the White House who may have been involved in this decision, you would presumably would want to investigate all of that as well.

CUMMINGS: I want to follow the evidence wherever it may lead. And, Wolf, this is not a new standard for me. I've said to our committee over and over again that we must operate almost like a federal court, and we must be impartial, but we must make sure that we focus on getting the facts, getting all the facts, and then concentrating on reform. That's what it's supposed to be all about.

BLITZER: Yesterday, i had Darrell Issa, the chairman of your committee on my show. We spoke extensively about the Benghazi investigation. Was it a mistake, in your opinion, you know a lot about this, for Thomas Pickering, Admiral Mullen, to avoid directly questioning the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, about what she knew at the time about what was going on in Benghazi?

CUMMINGS: Well, Pickering said that -- Ambassador Pickering said that he did have a two-hour conversation with Hillary Clinton towards the end of the investigation, and he claims that he had already gotten a lot of information and you (ph) have what he needed. I can't say whether it was a mistake. That's why I've asked Chairman Issa to bring in Pickering, Ambassador Pickering to us so that we can have an open discussion with regard to this report.

Keep in mind that Chairman Issa has said it on national TV that the report was incomplete. He's made all kind of accusations, and we just got a letter today within a matter of minutes ago from Pickering begging, literally, for a -- an opportunity to come before our committee. And he says in his letter that the integrity of the board has been criticized, and he says that he wants to have an opportunity to come before the committee and present his case.

And I want him to have that. I've asked Chairman Issa to do that. We had accusations made. But, again, Chairman Issa has not responded to my request. Basically, what he said, Issa, that is, has said he's going to have Pickering and Mullen go to some private place with his staff and do an interview. That's not good enough. I want them in our hearing so we can hear from them directly.

BLITZER: What Issa says also is that he wants to do a private Q&A session with Pickering and Mullen with the staff, as you point out, before bringing them to an open session of the hearing. And he says, that's the normal way of doing business. Witnesses meet privately with the staffs first and then they go before a public hearing. Is he wrong?

CUMMINGS: Wolf, give me a break. We just had -- when we had the three whistleblowers come before us, who I welcome, I was glad they came, one of those whistleblowers, a fellow named Thompson, we didn't even -- we knew nothing about him. There was no interview, not by the Democrats. These interviews are usually done jointly.

He came and we did not have an idea, not a scintilla of an idea of what he was going to say before he sat there. He made accusations, and I'm sure that he is testifying, going to testify under oath and testify truthfully, but a lot of the things was said go against our military, our highest ranking members of our military, our CIA, and Pickering and Mullen.

Again, remember what I said a few minutes ago, I want the whole truth and nothing but the truth and fairness. Just give me all the information so I can make a decision as to what's going on. But more importantly, so that we can address the fact that we have security deficits in our embassies that we need to address as soon as possible.

We've got four Americans, sadly, who died and it pains me. And I want to make sure that that does not happen to anybody else under our watch as best we can do. You cannot do that -- but, Wolf, you cannot do that, unless, you have complete information.

BLITZER: Right. Look, if you don't learn from your mistakes, you're bound to repeat them down the road. And as you're absolutely right. Four Americans are dead. Let's make sure it doesn't happen again to the best of our abilities. That's why you have the responsibility of oversight and review and that's a critically important part of the U.S. government. Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.

CUMMINGS: Thank you.


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