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

Interview

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BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

MATTHEWS: A whole new English language there from Issa. "In all likelihood," "we`re getting to proving it" -- in other words, he has nothing. And that was House Oversight Committee chair Darrell Issa at his best and worst -- he has nothing to offer here -- asserting that the IRS scandal began in Washington.

Well, apparently, it didn`t. This was supposed to be his big smoking gun implicating Washington, and by inference, of course, the White House and (INAUDIBLE) the IRS mess. It was all Obama`s fault. What he was getting to prove, as he put it, was based on excerpts of interviews his staff conducted with IRS officials based in Cincinnati. Those included one unnamed employee saying, I took all my direction from Washington. Well, conspiracy proved? Wrong.

Issa was criticized at the time for selectively disclosing extremely limited portions of those interviews. Why not release them all? Why not release more? Well, here`s why. It turns out that others in the division, including the manager of the group and the person responsible for screening tax-exempt applications, directly contradict those cherry-picked statements disclosed by Issa.

Ranking member Elijah Cummings released a new batch of transcripts over the weekend which tell a very different story from Issa`s. In them, the IRS manager, which Cummings revealed is a Republican, a conservative one at that -- quote, "Was the decision to screen and centralize the review of Tea Party cases the targeting of the president`s political enemies?" Answer, "I do not believe that the screening of these cases had anything to do other than consistency and identifying issues that needed to have further development."

He also added, quote -- and this is the guy in charge of that program -- "Do you have any reason to believe that anyone in the White House was involved in the decision to screen Tea Party cases?" Answer, "I have no reason believe that."

Well, U.S. Congressman Elijah Cummings joins us now. Sir, this is so amazing because this wild goose chase, is what it looks like now, that supposedly led all the way to the White House, although in Issa fashion, he never gets you all the way there. He says, I`m working on that one I just claimed.

And now he`s calling you -- what`s your phrase for your latest one, is you`re extreme and reckless in your assertions, and all you`re doing is quoting the witness he refused to even acknowledge, which is the guy in charge who said, I did it because -- we did it because it was a way to do things for consistency`s sake, and we got no leadership. And by the way, I`m a conservative Republican.

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D-MD), OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: That`s right. And you know, Chris, this is a witness that was called for an inquiry by the Republicans. Republicans and Democrats sat in on the inquiry. And this gentleman said, You know, I was the one who actually sent cases -- a case up to Washington.

Apparently, what happened is he was -- he had screeners under him, that worked for him. One of the screeners came to him in February of 2010 and says, Look, boss, this is a Tea -- we`ve got a Tea Party case here, and what they are asking for is they want tax-exempt status. His boss -- that is, the self-described Republican -- conservative Republican -- said, You`re right. We need to send this to Washington. This is a high-profile case. We want to make sure that we are consistent. We want to make sure that other cases that may come in, we treat them the same way.

And let me tell you something, Chris. This -- this conservative Republican manager is a guy who was just simply trying to do his job and do it right, no doubt about it. He sat for almost six hours with Republican and Democratic staff and told us his story. And he made it clear that he was the one who sent the file, the initial Tea Party file up to the technical office of IRS in Washington. And then he --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Go ahead.

CUMMINGS: And then he went to his screeners and he said, look, I also want you to look for other cases that might be similar, because we want to treat them all the same.

Keep in mind now, conservative Republican did this, and, again, trying too his job right. And so one of the screeners pulled together cases. And as they pulled together the cases, they said, you know, well, maybe we need to change some of the -- get some other terms. So, then that`s where the 912 came in and the patriot came in as types of words that would be target words, and that person has said that it was not about any political motivation. They were simply trying to do their job.

MATTHEWS: Why don`t you release all the transcripts?

CUMMINGS: I am -- Chairman Issa had said on another network last week that he would release the transcripts.

As you know, Chris -- you worked on the Hill. I try to give deference to the chairman. He is the chairman. But I have said on another network -- and I will say it tonight again -- I am anxious to have every syllable of the transcripts submitted and to the public.

I trust the public to read them and see what I saw. I don`t want a little tidbit here, a little tidbit there. I think we should have the total picture. And so I have said that, by Friday, if the chairman doesn`t want to release them, like he promised, like he promised, what we will do is we will do the redactions, because there are a lot of names in those transcripts that -- that we have got protect the innocent -- and then submit them to the public and to the media, so that you all can make your own judgment.

There`s nothing in those transcripts that I`m afraid of. And you know why? Because I have said from the beginning we must follow the situation, the evidence wherever it may lead. And all I want is the truth, period.

MATTHEWS: OK, let`s take a look at this. The transcripts also shed more light on who gave -- who gave the order to screen for groups using terms like Tea Party and patriot.

According to the transcripts, it was the Cincinnati-based employee who devised that method on his own. He says -- quote -- "Tea Party was just a term, but Tea Parties by another name may have been something else. So, there`s other terms I used. One was patriots and the 912 projects. At one point, I used the word tea, but T-E-A doesn`t get you very far, so I had to watch my queries and zero in on what I wanted."

So, how high up the chain does it all go? It turns out not very far. His manager was asked -- quote -- "I`m guessing that you did not instruct screening agent to use those terms in the March 2010 time period."

Response: "I did not."

The interviewer continues: "And I`m guessing you also did not instruct anyone other than screening agent to search for Tea Party cases in spring 2010 using those type -- those type -- those criteria." His answer: "I did not."

Let me ask you, if you had to write a time capsule statement of what you know, Congressman, as ranking member on that committee, the top Democrat, it seems to me if you put together the raw information in the I.G. report which started all this rigmarole, and you put together the evidence you got from this -- the transcript portion at least that says this was all self-energized, self-created the situation, nothing is here, no party politics, no clever stuff, no hanky-panky, if you will, politically.

CUMMINGS: No.

MATTHEWS: It`s just a couple of people or one guy even trying to find a way to get his job done quicker, to get it done more effectively. And that`s the entire story.

CUMMINGS: That is the entire story, Chris.

And, again, that`s why I`m hoping that the chairman will release these transcripts. That is the story. By the way, we have not gotten any evidence whatsoever out of all the inquiries that we have made of anybody who said that there was a White House connection to any of this.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Does anybody over there -- I know you do. Does anybody over on that committee, including Issa, ever think about the national interest, that it`s not in the national interest to have people believe that the IRS is crooked --

CUMMINGS: Yes.

MATTHEWS: -- that it`s a joke, that it`s out there looking around for people`s political enemies and checking in with the White House to see who he wants screwed that week, it`s not in the interest of a country that requires revenues collected honestly, with integrity?

CUMMINGS: Yes.

MATTHEWS: It costs people money to give the taxes. They don`t like to do it, but when they do it, they want to feel at least it`s a good government that they`re helping get its job done.

And to have this word spread so maliciously and recklessly -- there`s a use, a firm -- your chairman likes. It`s awful.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Can`t you sit down with a guy and say Darrell, the country is not going to be a better country because it suspects every IRS agent?

CUMMINGS: My friend the late Jack Kemp, Republican congressman used to say the best way to serve your party is to serve your country first. And that`s what you`re saying, Chris. I agree with that. Again, we just -- I just want to follow the truth, whatever it is, whatever it may be.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

CUMMINGS: And then we can -- don`t forget, our -- our committee is Government and, you know, Oversight and Reform. But in order to properly reform, Chris, you have got to have complete information.

MATTHEWS: Yes. I`m glad you`re there.

CUMMINGS: Thank you. Thank you very much.

MATTHEWS: Thank you, Congressman Elijah Cummings of Maryland. And thanks for coming, ranking Democrat on that committee.

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