'This Week' Transcript: White House Senior Adviser Dan Pfeiffer

MENENDEZ: Well, first of all, they have a part of the entire health care act and that oversight will be done by our respective committees as well as the health education and labor committee. And what's most important is not to have 37 votes in the House of Representatives to repeal the president's health care law, which means 37 votes to stop millions of young people from being on their parents' insurance, or being able to have them not be discriminated because of preexisting conditions. That didn't pursue any effort to improve health care in the nation.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Your response, Congressman Price.

PRICE: Yeah, a good attempt to change the subject. The fact of the matter is this is about trust. And Sarah Hall Ingram, who was in charge of the tax-exempt division at the IRS between 2009 and 2012, the exact time of this challenge and affront to the American people, is now in charge of instituting and regulating and determining whether or not the IRS is doing the appropriate things as it relates to the ACA, the president's health care law.

Remember, the IRS is the enforcement arm for the president's healthcare law?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you think she has to go?

PRICE: I think she at least has to step back until we get to the bottom of this.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Congressman Rangel, you get the last word.

RANGEL: There's no Republican agenda except to stop the president of the United States. IT just seems to me that there's no evidence, that whatever went wrong it was known outside of Cincinnati. They should have been better trained to deal with a very sensitive piece of legislation that was abused by the left and the right.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Gentlemen, thank you all very much. We'll be watching the hearings this week.

Our powerhouse round table is up next. They weigh in on all the scandal talk. What will stick and whether Obama escape that second-term curse?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: ...Peter Baker of the "New York Times" that President Obama has a secret fantasy, it's called going Bulworth, letting it all hang out like the rapping senator played by Warren Beatty in the 1998 film.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WARREN BEATTY, ACTOR: Big money. Big money. One man, one vote. Now is that really real. The name of our game is let's make the deal. Now people got their problems, the haves and have nots, but the ones that (inaudible) make a 30 second (inaudible).

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Don't hold your breath for the Bulworth strategy.

But is there a film that you would like to played out now in Washington now? Tweet me your favorite political movie @GStephanopoulos hashtag #thisweek. We'll be right back with the roundtable.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: Would you consider the crimes returned in the indictments last week -- those of perjury, obstruction of justice and conspiracy -- to be impeachable crimes?

PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON: I do not except that the House Committee will find that the president is guilty of any of these crimes.

REPORTER: Your credibility has been severely damaged. Can you repair it?

PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: I imagine I'm the only one around who wants to repair it and I didn't have anything to do with this, damaging it.

REPORTER: What goes through your mind when you hear critics compare this current controversy to Watergate?

PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: We're not covering up or anything, we are opening up.

REPORTER: How do you feel about comparisons by some of your critics of this week's scandals to those that happened under the Nixon administration?

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: You can go ahead and read the history I think and draw your own conclusions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: The president did not bite on those historical comparisons. What does the roundtable think? We are joined by George Will, Katrina Vanden Heuvel, Editor and Publisher of "The Nation," ABC's new Chief Washington Correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, April Ryan of "The Urban Radio Networks, American Urban Radio Networks and Ron Fournier of "National Journal." Thank you all for coming in.

So George, last week before the hearing you wrote a column saying you heard echoes of Watergate in the IRS scandal. After the hearings, after the revelations this week, do you still believe that?

WILL: Sure in the sense it's the use of the Federal machinery to punish enemies of the administration. Let's take a running leap into this. March 2012, the IRS, responding to rumors all over conservative movement and all over Washington that conservative groups are being targeted, assured the Ways and Means Committee this was not true. The commissioner at the time did.

Two months later, they know that's not true. Did they come back to the Ways and Means Committee and correct the record? No they did not. In June 2012, the number two man at Treasury and the Treasury General Counsel are told about the targeting. Did they respond in any way that we know about yet? Did they inform the White House? We don't know.

STEPHANOPOULOS: They say no.

WILL: That's why we have divided government. We're going to have hearings and we're going to find out. Then on March 10, sorry May 10, 10th of this month, Lois Lerner in an amazingly interesting coincidence is asked a question at an American Bar Association Conference about this. And she says, yes it's been happening. This just in from a report that's going to come out from the IRS confirming that.

This week, the acting Commissioner Mr. Miller, says the IRS was not corrupt in this, it was just breathtakingly incompetent delivery what he called, "horrible customer service" which another amazing coincidence just happened to fall disproportionately on conservatives.

Finally he said, "I do not know whose idea this was, but I do know that these people I do not know, did not have political motives." That's where we stand.

STEPHANOPOULOS: That's where we stand. But we also know a little bit more than that. Let me bring you this to Ron Fournier, we do know that at least on two occasions higher ups at the IRS went back to the Cincinnati office and said, broaden out the criteria, this doesn't seem fair.

FOURNIER: Right. The problem with this scandal and it actually relates to the other ones that we'll talk about later, is when you're in a position of government and saying, we're not corrupt, we're just incompetent, that's a bad place to be.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Fair summary.

FOURNIER: What unites all these things is it undermines the credibility of the administration and the president in a competence of government. And this is a time when we have a president who's really trying hard to prove that government can improve our lives. That government can help us move forward. And trying to reverse this decades-long decline in our faith in government.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I want to get back to the question a little bit. Let's pick on the IRS for now. Your response to George?

VANDEN HEUVEL: Watergate, seriously, George? I mean Watergate was a scandal unique in its depths of criminality. You had a president at the heart of the White House directing the subversion of the FBI and other institutions including the IRS. There is no evidence, and I think the IRS scandal is outrageous. There is investigation underway.

The president has fired the acting head, and the key scandal which you will disagree with, is that we had after Citizens United, a flood of money coming in and you had groups which were clearly political and partisan, trying to use this 501(c)4 categorization to escape political scrutiny.

Let us have an investigation, but let us not call it Watergate, because that demeans our history and the full nature of constitutional crisis.

WILL: I can only say that I brought Watergate into this because abuse of the IRS was Second 1, Article 2, of the Articles of Impeachment of Richard Nixon.

VANDEN HEUVEL: But it has been used by the Kennedy administration, by the Nixon administration, there is no evidence yet that the president or the White House knew of any outside political pressure.

And the key scandal is that we must break open and have even handed standards so that people, the Congress and the FEC have failed in their duty because donors, political parties, PACs, these so-called 501(c)4s which should be abolished, have not had standards to abide by.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And Jeff you certainly saw that's where the two Democrats who were on the committee certainly want to take these investigations going forward. From your reporting, what else do you expect to be uncovered this week? And what direction do you expect the Senate Finance Committee to take?

ZELENY: I think the Senate Finance Committee is getting the first shot at this on Tuesday. And the key person here is Douglas Shulman. Yes he was a Bush appointee but he was the head of the IRS and he has some questions to answer here.

STEPHANOPOULOS: He was the one, just let me explain, he was the one who did not divulge to the Congress --

ZELENY: Exactly.

STEPHANOPOULOS: That this was going on. He says he didn't know about it.

ZELENY: And a couple of things are happening here. Members of the House and the Senate are upset that Congress didn't, that they weren't fully informed, excuse me. But it's really not the issue of if Congress was informed or not. It's actually what was happening here.

But the Senate Finance Committee, I'm told, is still looking for IRS employees, agents, who they're going to bring in and question. That's not going to happen on Tuesday. But that's what we really need here. Some of the employees to sort of call out Washington. Right now it's top down. We need to hear from the bottom up.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Bottom up. April the White House does seem pretty confident in their assertions that there was no communication one way or the other, with the IRS.

RYAN: Yes they do. But you always have to remember with the White House and everyone here knows this. You have to present this strength and the fact that your hands were clear. Particularly the president. Even though the White House counsel knew about it a month ago. The president says he found out about it through media reports.

But one thing that this administration is trying to do, to win the picture on this, and one way that they're trying to win the picture on this is Friday night they asked the new IRS Commissioner to embark on an investigation that will bring back information in 30 days. So they are really standing strong and showing, saying, look we had nothing to do with this but we're trying to move this forward and get answers.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And that's not enough for the senators we heard today calls for Special Council from Senator Portman from Congressman Price saying he's not quite there yet. Do you see this as the next step or the Congressional Investigation is going to be sufficient?

FOURNIER: We're definitely going to have to have Congressional Investigation. It kind of depends what comes out of that. If there's any, any hint, all there has to be is a blind copy email to a Deputy Political Director in the White House and this thing is really big, maybe even (inaudible) big.

If after a real thorough investigation it's stopped inside a very incompetent, poorly managed, about to take over health care IRS, then it's just a severe problem for the president.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you accept that George?

WILL: Sure let's but let's start as Jeff says from the bottom up. Let's find up if that group in Iowa that says, the Right to Life group, says it was told it would get its tax exempt status if, but only if, it promised not to picket Planned Parenthood. Let's find out if that happened and if so, who told them that. And where they got the bright idea to do that. A Tennessee group said you're entitlement to this status will be contingent upon telling the names of the high school and college students that you trained to participate in politics. I want to find out what Americans --

VANDEN HEUVEL: In order to even hand an application of IRS standards, again, the Federal Election Commission, the Congress, we need to have a set of standards. Because these people in Cincinnati, first of all they also broadened it to non-Tea Party, non-Conservative groups. But I think you need to have a set of standards. And our campaign finance system needs to be just torn apart. It's broken. Our democracy is broken and this is a subset of that. Sure, let us have investigations.

But scandal is not an agenda. And the Republicans are going to run just inhaling scandal without a sober-minded, fact-finding investigation on any of these issues. Now I think the real issue which pre-dates this week and is it a scandal? It's a scandal to some, but we've known about it, is the AP story. I mean the fact that this administration picked the baton from Bush and failing to uphold what it promised, has had the worst record on press freedom. You can't be a situational civil libertarian George.

Listen the Press Freedom Record, the Transparency Record of this administration, this administration has prosecuted more people for leaks, officials, than any others. And I think that is something, maybe millions of people in this country don't care because they don't care about Benghazi or the IRS story right now. But that's something that speaks to the core of democracy and what we stand for.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me take a step back and just explain because it's a good transition. Exactly what happened here. We found out that the Justice Department secretly was able to seize the phone records of the AP, about 20 different phone lines at the AP, probably involving about 100 reporters in this leak investigation last year. Which was trying to get at who divulged the existence of a mole inside al Qaeda.

VANDEN HEUVEL: That's right.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So that all said right there, headlines, George, across the country, "Justice Dept. should not have obtained AP's phone records." "Spying on The Associated Press." "Those AP Subpoenas."

Actually I want to bring this to Ron Fournier because you worked at The Associated Press for about 20 years, 20-something years. And you made the point this week that you believe that the leak investigation actually has potential to do more harm to national security than the initial leak itself.

FOURNIER: No doubt about it. A couple quick points, we heard Dan Pfeiffer early used as defense of the IRS, oh those Republicans are doing a fishing expedition? Well how can the administration with a straight face talk about fishing expeditions when that's what they're doing against the AP?

First point, why this is a problem. When it intimidates whistleblowers, anybody who has information about the government that the government doesn't want out, now is chilled.

Two, anybody out there watching this show, paying attention to the stories, got to worry about their own records. Because if DOJ is willing to come after the world's oldest and largest news organization, knowing that the AP would disseminate this, right? Right knowing this --

STEPHANOPOULOS: Knowing that Justice Department guidelines say that you have to go to the AP first.

FOURNIER: Right. What are they willing to do to you? What are they willing to do to your mother back in Topeka? Knowing that she doesn't have the power of the Associated Press, this is scary.

Three, the reason it really undermines National Security, I have to kind of explain what happened here. The AP like news organizations have for many decades, when they found out about the story, one way or another, they got in contact with the CIA. I don't know if the AP went to them or the CIA went to the AP. It's not material.

Government said this is dangerous. Please don't put this information out, we need a few days to protect the informant. The AP, as news organizations do, because there's this bond of trust, held off on the story right? The CIA never asked them to kill the story, that's very important to know. For five days, AP sat on the story. They took care of their asset.

The CIA said it's safe to run the story, you can run it. A few minutes, a few hours later, later on in the day, they said, wait, wait we need an extra day because we want to put out a press release tomorrow. They wanted their PR plan to go in place.

So now what happens is other news organizations are going to be less trusting of the government when the government says please don't run this, it undermines national security.

RYAN: But Ron is right, it extends worldwide. We are the standard bearer for freedom of the press. And then when you have these rogue nations or nations that are suppressing information, and they'll say, they'll look to the United States, saying, oh well, President Obama is doing that to their press, we can do it too.

And not only that, Ron is absolutely right, if you can start saying, look we're going to take your logs. It's all about relationship. It's all about trust. And if those sources say, hey I'm not going to do this because, in fear of possible investigation, what have you, that's a problem for us, to be able to disseminate factual information.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And George all the reasons why the AP should have been consulted. And I think there's an actual strong case to be made that the White House or the Justice Department could have also gone to court and had them adjudicate it as well. On the other hand, this was a very, very serious investigation. A very serious leak that put not only American assets at risk but could have complicated our national security.

WILL: Absolutely. Government has a right to some secrets, particularly those involving sources and methods of intelligence gathering. We all understand that. As you said, the AP was extremely compliant here. In spite of the fact that the government was not following its own protocols tested over time.

Now the administration says, embarrassed, now we need another law. We need a shield law. This country has had a shield law since December 15, 1791 when the First Amendment was ratified.

STEPHANOPOULOS: That shield law in this case would not have applied to national security concerns.

ZELENY: And the problem for all of this, this is not directly linked to the Oval Office or the West Wing, perhaps because it would be improper for them to be in discussions with the Department of Justice, as far as we know. But the bigger picture here is, this is all we've talked about all week.

The president had probably nine months to get his agenda through. And on Congress, in Congress, on Capitol Hill, scandal is the only discussion here. So this is a big problem in terms of undermining the trust of --

(CROSSTALK)

VANDEN HEUVEL: There is a related scandal. We're talking about the AP as we should now. But with a few exceptions in the establishment media, the "New York Times" being one, where has the coverage been in these last few years? When you've seen spying on American-Muslim communities? On dissidents? A Patriot Act passed through without even much thought? The Federal, the FISA Act which allows journalists to be eavesdropped on, so I'm just saying this is something that is very chilling. On the other hand, this is not an apology for the Obama government, but the Republicans have been baying like wolves in the night for more investigation of leaks. So there's a transpartisan ecumenical problem --

WILL: Wow that is a sentence for you.

FOURNIER: I'm glad you asked that question. Where are the investigations into Muslim communities?

VANDEN HEUVEL: That's right.

FOURNIER: The Associated Press has a prize winning team. Did an investigation into profiling here in this city, of the Muslim community. That same team, that same team was the one that the administration came to and said, please don't print this. They're over seen by a Bureau Chief who replaced me, named Sally Busby, who oversaw two wars for the Associated Press. These are not folks who this is their first rodeo.

VANDEN HEUVEL: That's right.

FOURNIER: When you said the AP is not compliant, the AP is never compliant, the AP is responsible. The administration here has been irresponsible.

RYAN: The administration is denying that this whole investigation is about that story, about the al Qaeda leak story.

STEPHANOPOULOS: It's broader than that. How about the broader question George that Jeff raises, I think you've got a third of the committees in the House now investigating the administration. It seems like the rest of the president's agenda is languishing. You asked in the column this week, what agenda?

WILL: In fact, the president ran a campaign that was designed to defeat Mitt Romney, not give him real momentum going forward. There are those of that think there's entirely too much trust in government. And this week demonstrated why we think that. And if we drain the reservoir of trust, we'll be better off as a republic.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But is there a risk that the Republicans go too far in pushing? You already heard when we played it in the opening, Michele Bachmann raising the specter of impeachment.

WILL: That's silly. And it is possible to go too far. But Republicans perhaps cannot be blamed for saying a crisis is a terrible thing to waste. And there's a crisis of confidence and they are the political party that exists to say that government is necessary but always is a danger.

VANDEN HEUVEL: Even the "National Review" had an editorial this week, "Scandal is No Agenda." Now I would argue that the Republican Party is unified by its determination to obstruct President Obama. It's doing a good job. One of the terrible things this past week to see again how it's obstructing the confirmation of appointees needed to run a functional government.

However, I would say that the president, his administration is floundering because they haven't, they've allowed weapons of mass distraction to dominate because they haven't found their core agenda for the second term. What is it? Is it immigration reform, which might well have a better chance of passing because of this distraction in Washington.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Better chance?

VANDEN HEUVEL: Yes I think because people will be distracted by the scandals. But I think jobs, where's the job creation? Where's the action on guns? These are focuses of an administration that knows what it wants to do in a second term. So I think there's blame to go around.

ZELENY: The failure to get the Gun Bill through when the president was pushing it, this is his top agenda. I'm not sure on immigration. Speaking of that, that's a big problem on the House, the Senate thinks it's moving forward, but there is no real agenda here and time is running out.

The president had a meeting with some top advisers right after the election. He said, how much time do I have? They said basically about a year. Well it is now almost June, half of that year is up. And we know what's going to happen in the rest of the year. I mean all these committees. As you said, a third of the committees are investigating the White House.

FOURNIER: If I could just push back on one thing with all due respect. I don't think it's a good thing whether you're Republican or Democrat, that the public has lost faith in government. I don't think it's a good time, after the last, good thing, that what is happening in this country is more and more, and even exacerbated under President Obama before these scandals. People are looking outside of government for their own work-arounds around the Federal Government.

I had to get away from Washington for two days this week and go to Boston to talk to millennials. The best and the brightest up at Harvard, the best and the brightest in suburban Detroit, the best and brightest in suburban Virginia, about the fact that they have a level of civic engagement, but polls show they don't trust government.

What this means is people like that, the next generation, are staying out of government.

STEPHANOPOULOS: George you have 30 seconds to respond and we're out of time.

WILL: Big government, the best construction on the IRS scandal, is big government is impossible to monitor. That's the lesson of this.

FOURNIER: Any government has to be trusted.

WILL: Any government has to be trusted, but the bigger the government gets, the bigger the distrust ought to be and will be.

VANDEN HEUVEL: But I've understood why people who hate government go into government. Because we're seeing an intent to dismantle a positive, activist government. And there are millennials around this country who still see, as they face student debt and other factors, a need for positive government that would improve the conditions of people --

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Thank you all very much. Katrina's going to stick around and answer your questions for our web Extra. Check it out at abcnews.com/thisweek.

And up next, graduation season is here. We're shining our Sunday Spotlight on some of the best commencement speeches including Stephen Colbert yesterday at the University of Virginia.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHEN COLBERT: This week's "Time" magazine called you lazy, entitled, narcissists. So self-obsessed, tweeting your vines, hash tagging your Spotifies, and snapchatting your Yolos. Your generation needs everything to be about you. And that's very upsetting to us baby boomers because self-absorption is kind of our thing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Sunday Spotlight is next. First here's a look at the president's tough week on late night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIMMY KIMMEL: This afternoon President Obama held a joint press conference with the Prime Minister of Turkey. Why Turkey, I'm not sure. I think those are the only sandwiches his wife lets him eat.

SETH MEYERS: President Obama denied that he knew about the Inspector General's report detailing the IRS' increased scrutiny of conservative groups. So nothing to worry about, America, there's just a bunch of stuff happening that the president doesn't know about.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: And in today's Sunday Spotlight, what may be the toughest speaking gig of all, what to tell graduates as they squirm in their seats, itching for those diplomas. We're right in the thick of commencement season now. Watch how a few speakers handle the assignment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FIRST LADY MICHELLE OBAMA: Oprah was demoted from her first job as a news anchor. Now she doesn't even need a last name. And then there's this guy Barack Obama, he lost his first race for Congress and now he gets to call himself my husband.

COLBERT: It may seem that all that's left for you is unpaid internships, Monday to Tuesday mail delivery and thanks to global warming, soon semester at sea will mean sailing the coast of Ohio.

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: In a line of work like mine, for example, I've learned that if you're trying to please everybody by playing it safe, you're not playing up to your full potential.

FORMER PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: This whole thing comes down in the end to whether we think the future will be better if we face it with open hands or closed fists?

JULIE ANDREWS: As I was driving in from the airport, I was just looking at the lovely hills and honestly, I wanted to step out of the car and walk over to a grassy knoll and you know what, make my signature turn from "The Sound of Music."

ANNIE LENNOX: Oooh I bet you wonder how I knew, about your plans to make be blue.

MITT ROMNEY: You only live one life. Don't spend it in safe, shallow water. Launch out into the deep.

SENATOR AL FRANKEN: But many of you might be thinking right now about which leadership position you plan to attain when you leave here. Hopefully not mine. At least not for a while, okay? Okay?

COKIE ROBERTS: As you go forward, please consider the special place of public service in the history of this nation. And make some history yourselves. Congratulations.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Congratulations to everyone in the Class of 2013. And now we honor our fellow Americans who serve and sacrifice. This week the Pentagon released the names of four soldiers killed in Afghanistan.

And that is all for us today. Thanks for sharing part of your Sunday with us. Check out World News with David Muir tonight and I'll see you tomorrow on GMA.

Page
Join the Discussion
You are using an outdated version of Internet Explorer. Please click here to upgrade your browser in order to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
You Might Also Like...