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CNN "The Situation Room" - Transcript - IRS Targeting Controversy


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BLITZER: He's a former U.S. ambassador who led the probe into the death of another U.S. Ambassador, Chris Stevens, one of four Americans killed in the attack on the American mission in Benghazi, Libya last September 11th.

Today, Thomas Pickering testified about his investigation before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Congressman Elijah Cummings of Maryland is the ranking Democrat on that committee.

He's joining us now live from Capitol Hill.

Congressman, thanks very much for coming in. You were just in that closed door hearing with the former ambassador, Thomas Pickering. Was any new ground covered?

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS, (D) MARYLAND: No. There was no new ground covered, Wolf, but I can tell you one thing. He needs to come before the full committee as he has requested. He did an outstanding job. In my 31 years of practice of law, I can tell you I heard from no more credible witness than Ambassador Pickering. He did a great job.

And so, Issa -- Chairman Issa said that he wanted him to do this closed door deposition first. Of course, the admiral wanted to come -- ambassador wanted to come before the full committee because, you know, some things have been said about him in the report, saying that it was incomplete, that he was covering up for the administration and things of that nature, and he simply wanted to come before the full committee.

As a matter of fact, he wrote two letters, asking the chairman, allow him to come to the full committee so that the entire public could hear his testimony. The chairman has agreed that he would come within -- now be able to come within two weeks, but he first, Wolf, had to pay a price of sitting down to a five or six-hour deposition which he did today, and he did in a very courteous thoughtful way.

And he showed us that this was a complete non-political investigation. And as he said -- at 81 years old, I think this was his effort to try to make sure that generations yey unborn who will go into our various embassies and become diplomats will be protected.

BLITZER: Quick question on that, because the most criticism of Ambassador Pickering and his review with with, he never questioned the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, and the allegation that some Republicans making was trying to cover up for her. Did he explain why he never asked her any questions about that night?

CUMMINGS: Now, keep in mind, Wolf, even at -- during our hearing -- during the hearing now, it was being clear that he did have a two-hour discussion with her. I cannot go into the details of a deposition, but again, I think he made it very, very clear that he had enough information to conclude that Hillary Clinton was not responsible in this instance.

And that was very clear. And again, I think that when he comes before the American public in a hearing, that will be made even clearer.

BLITZER: The chairman of your committee, Darrell Issa, he had some very harsh words the other day right here on CNN for the White House press secretary. Let me play the clip.


REP. DARRELL ISSA, (R) OVERSIGHT & GOVERNMENT REFORM CHMN.: Their paid liar, their spokesperson, picture behind. He's still making up things about what happens and calling this local rogue. There's no indication. The reason that Lois Learner tried to take the fifth is not because there's a rogue in Cincinnati, it's because this is a problem that was coordinated in all likelihood right out of Washington headquarters and we're getting to proving it.


BLITZER: Talking about the IRS investigation. He said Jay Carney is a paid liar and that those officials in Cincinnati were instructed to go out and single out those Tea Party groups by Washington. You want to respond to that?

CUMMINGS: Yes. First of all, you know, I think his allegation is very, very unfortunate. And, I have not seen one scintilla of evidence to say that the White House had anything to do with these employees targeting certain groups. And I think -- and again, I said it to our chairman, I said it to our committee, it's important that we have credibility. It's important that our committee has credibility, so that when we produce a product, the public can feel confident.

And we must be in search of the truth. We cannot just put out allegations, Wolf, and then go chasing trying to find some facts that don't even exist. And so, hopefully, he'll attempt (ph) that down a little bit, that kind of rhetoric because it does none of us any good. We must get to the bottom of the IRS situation. I wanted to get that done more than anybody else, but as I said during the hearing, there are two things that I want.

I want truth and so that we can establish trust. The American people must have trust in this organization. Those kind of comments have no place in our dialogue here on Capitol Hill.

BLITZER: Listen to some of the emotional testimony today from Tea Party supporters and what they went through as part of this IRS investigation. Listen to this.


BECKY GERRITSON, WETUMPKA TEA PARTY: I'm not interested in scoring political points. I want to protect and preserve the America that I grew up in, the America that people cross oceans and risk their lives to become a part of. And I'm terrified it is slipping away.

JOHN EASTMAN, CHMN., NATIONAL ORGANIZATION FOR MARRIAGE: Is this limited to the IRS? The stories about people having OSHA and ATF and FBI start investigations in them. Just got American citizens scared to death of what their government is capable of doing once they cross the threshold that they've crossed here.


BLITZER: So, these conservative groups, these Tea Party oriented groups, they say they were singled out for special treatment as opposed to progressive or liberal groups on the other side. They say this is not what America is supposed to be all about.

CUMMINGS: First, let me make it clear, Wolf, that I think every single American should be treated fairly and definitely should be treated fairly by the IRS. There's a lot that has to be done within the IRS, and I'd say that this is a transformative moment, if we allow it to be, Wolf. There got to be some changes. I talked to Danny Werfel, the new -- the acting commissioner the other day.

I think he has laid out a plan to straighten this stuff out, to make clear regulations, so that folks know exactly what the guidelines are, and to get rid of those people who treat people in an unfair way. But let me tell you something, Wolf, we've got to -- when we look at a tax exemptions, we've also got to be clear as to what the law is. I think that if it's a group, they should not be doing any kind of political efforts.

They should be just concentrating on social welfare issues, and it should be exclusive. We've got to clear that up. So, there is no ambiguity with regard to the citizens or with regard to the IRS when these kind of issues arise. BLITZER: You agree, congressman, the same standards should be held for the left and the right?

CUMMINGS: That's exactly right. Wolf, let me tell you, I believe in the constitution of the United States. I believe that everybody has to be treated fairly. And whether they're on the right or left. I'll fight just as hard for true to vote as I would for the NAACP, because I know that constitution is what binds us and allows us to move forward in this society.

BLITZER: Congressman Cummings, as usual, thanks very much for coming in.

CUMMINGS: It's my honor.

BLITZER: Elijah Cummings, the Democrat from Maryland, the ranking member of this critically important committee.


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