Roundtable II: Politics of Scandal

George Will, Katrina vanden Heuvel, Jeff Zeleny, April Ryan, and Ron Fournier.
18:54 | 05/19/13

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Transcript for Roundtable II: Politics of Scandal
Siemens. Answers. Would you consider the crimes returned in the indictments last week, those of perjury, obstruction of justice and conspiracy, to be impeachable crimes? I do expect that the house committee will find the president is guilty of any of these crimes. Your credibility has been severely damage. Can you repair it? I imagine that I'm the only one around here who wants to repair it. I didn't have anything to do with damaging it. We're not covering up or anything. We're opening up. How do you feel about comparisons by some of your critics of this week's scandals to those that happened under the nixon administration? You can go ahead and read the history, I think, and draw your own conclusions. The president did note on those historical comparisons. What does the roundtable think? We're joined by george will, katrina vanden heuvel, jeff zeleny, april ryan, and ron fournier. Thank you all for coming up. George, you wrote a column that you heard echoes of watergate in the irs scandal, after the hearings and revelations do you still believe that? Sure, it's the use of 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 mont and all over washington, that conservative groups being targeted, assured the weighs and means committee that this was not true. Two months later, they know that's not true. Did they come back to the weighs and means committee and correct the record? No, they did not. The number two mry department are told about the targeting. Did they respond in any way we know about yet? Did they inform the white house? We don't know. That's why we have divided government. We're going to have hearings and we're going to find out. Then, on march 10th -- may 10th of this month, lois lerner in an coincidence is asked a question at a conference about this, and she says yes, it's been happening. This, just in front of a report that's going to come out from the irs confirming that. This week, the acting commissioner, mr. Miller, says that the irs was not corrupt in this it was just breathtaking incompetent. Delivering what we said horrible customer service. Which happened to fall disproportionately on conservatives. He said, I know these people that I did not know had political motives. That's where we stand. But we do know more than that. Ron fournier, we do know, at least on two occasions, higher-ups at the irs went back to the cincinnati office and broaden out the criteria that this didn't seem fair. Right. The problem with this scandal, as it relates to the others, you know, when you're in a position of government saying we're not corrupt we're just incompetent, that's a bad place to be. What unites all of these things, is it undermines the credibility the administration and the president and the competence of government. That government can help us move forward now, trying to reverse this decades-long decline. Let's stick on the irs for now. Your response, katrina? Watergate, seriously, george, watergate was a scandal unique in its depth of criminality. You had the president directing the subversion of the agencies. And other institutions, including the irs. There is no evidence. I think the irs scandal is outrageous. There is an investigation under way. The president has fired the acting head. The key scandal, which you'll disagree with, we had after citizens united, a flood of money coming in, and groups that were clearly political and partisan trying to use this categorization to escape political scrutiny. Let us have an investigation. Let us not call it watergate. Because that demeans our history and the ll nature of controversies. I would only say that i brought watergate into this because the abuse of the irs was section 1, article ii of the articles of impeachment of richard nixon. But it has been used by the kennedy administration, the nixon administration, but there's been no evidence that the president or the white house knew of pressure. We must break open and have even-handed standards so that people, the congress and the fdc has failed. They haven't had standards to abide by. Jeff, they want to take these investigations going forward, from your reporting, what else do you expect to be uncovered this week and the senate finance committee is going to take? They'll get the firhot on this tue douglas shulman, a bush appointee the head of the irs, and he has some questions to answer. He was the one who didn't divulge to the congress that this w going on. Members of the house and the cincinnati are upset that congress didn't -- that they weren't fully informed, excuse me. It's really not the issue whether congress was informed or not. 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. That's what we need, employees to call out washington. April, the white house seems pretty confident in their assertions there was no communication one way or another with the irs. Yes, they do. Everyone here knows this you have to present this strength and the fact that your heads were tied. Even though the white house counsel knew about it a month ago, the president said he found out about it through media reports. But one thing that this administration is 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're really standing strong and saying, look, we had nothing to do with this. We're trying to move this forward. Calls for special counsel from senator portman, from congressman price, he's not quite there yet, do you see this as the next step or the congressional investigation is going to sufficient? Definitely going to have a congressional investigation. It depends on what comes out of that. If there's any hint that -- i mean, a blind copy e-mail to the white house and this thing is really big. If after a thorough investigation, it stopped inside a poorly managed, about to take over health care, irs, it's just a severe problem for the president. Sure. But let's start from the bottom up. Let's find out that group in iowa that says, a right to life group, it was told that it would get its tax-exempt status if they didn't plan to picket planned parenthood. Let's find out if that happened and if so, who told them that? A tennessee group said your entitlement to this status will be contingent upon you telling us the names of high school and college students that you trained to participate in politics. I want to find out what -- in order to have even-handed 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 broaden it to nontea party nonconservative groups. I think you need to have a set of standards. Our democracy is broken and this is a subset of that. Sure, let's 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. I think the real issue which predates this week, ands it a scandal? It's a scandal to some it's the ap story, the fact this administration, picked up the baton of band failing to uphold what it promised. You can't be a situational civil libertarian, george. Listen, the press freedom record of this administration, this administration has prosecuted more people for leaks than any others. I think that's something many millions of people in country care about. They don't care about benghazi or the irs stories right now. Let me take a step back. This is 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, involving hundreds of reporters in this leak investigation last year which was trying to get at who was divulge the mole. In al qaeda. Headlines, george, across the country. Those ap subpoenas. I want to bring this to ron fournier, because you worked at the associated press for about 20 years. 20-something years. You made the point that you believe that the leak investigation actually has potential to do more harm than the initial leak itself. No doubt about it. You heard dan pfeiffer early use as defense of the irs all of those republicans doing a fishing expedition. How can they talk about the fishing expedition? First point. Why is this a problem? First, it intimidates whistle blowers. Two, anybody out there watching this show, paying attention to this story, has to worry about their own records. Because if the doj is willing to go after the world's largest news agency -- what are they willing to do to you? What are they willing to do to your mother back in topeka? This is scary. Three, the reason is, really undermines national security. To explain what happened here the ap like news organizations for many decades, when they find out about this story, they got in contact with the cia. I don't know if the ap went to the cia or the cia went to the ap, it's not material. The government said that she this is dangerous. Please don't put this information out. The ap as news organizations do, held off on this story. Right? The cia never asked them to kill the story. That's very important to know. For five days the ap sat on the story, they took care of their asset. The cia said that it's safe to run the story. A few hours later it, they said we need an extra day because we want to put out a press release. Now, what happens is, other news organizations is going to be less trusting of the government. But, ron is right. It extends worldwide. We are the standard bearer of freedom of the press. And then you have these nations suppressing information, they'll look to the united states saying, oh, well, president obama is doing that to their press we can do it, too. Ron is absolutely right. If you can start saying, look, we're going too take your logs out, it's all about relationship and trust. And if those sources say, hey, I'm not going to do this because in fear of possible investigation or what have you, that's a problem for us to disseminate factual information. Ron laid out the reasons the ap should have been consulted. I think there's a strong case to be made that the white house or the justice department could have gone to a court and had them adjudicate it as well. On the other hand this was a very, very serious investigation and a very serious leak. That put american assets at risk and complicate our security. Government has a right to some secrets, involving sources and methods of intelligence-gathering. We all understand that. But as you said, the ap was extremely compliant here. In spite of the fact that the government wasn't following its own protocol. Now, the administration says -- now we need another law, a shield law. This country has had a shield law since 1791 when the first amendment law -- a shield law wouldn't apply in this. The problem for all of us, this isn't directly linked to the oval office or the west wing. But, tcture here is, this is all we have talked about all week the president had probably nine months to get his agenda through. In congress, on capitol hill, it's scandal that's the only discussion here. This is a big problem in terms of undermining the trust of -- there is a related scandal. I mean, we're talking about the ap as we should know. With a few exceptions. The "new york times," where has the coverage been in these last few years? When you have seen spying on american muslim communities, on dissidents. Patriot act passed through without much thought. The act that allows journalists to be eavesdropped on. This isn't an apology for the obama government. So, there's a transpartisan problem. Which we might -- that is a sentence. I'm glad you asked that question. What are the investigations into muslim communities? The associated press, did an investigation into profiling here in the city of muslim community, that same team, that same team was the one that the administration came to and said, please don't print this. Oversaw two wars for the associated press. This isn't their first rodeo. That's right. The ap is never compliant. The ap is responsible. To hold -- the administration is denying that this whole investigation is about that story, about the al qaeda leak story. It's broader than that. The question, george, that jeff raises, I u have a third of the committee investigating the administration, it seems like the rest of the president's agenda is languishing, you ask in a column, what agenda? In fact, the president ran a campaign designed to defeat mitt romney, not give him real momentum going forward. Those of us think there's entirely too much trust in government, if we drain the reservoir of trust, we'll be better off as republicans. We played in the open, michele bachmann raising the specter of impeachment. That's silly. It's possible to go too far. Republicans can't be blamed saying that a crisis is a terrible thing to waste. And there's a crisis of confidence. Wcvb wcvb wcvb wcvb wcvb wcvb wcvb wcvb these are focuses of an administration that knows what it wants to do in the second administration. I'm not sure on immigration. I mean, like, that's a big problem on the house. The senate thinks it's moving guard. But there is no real agenda here and time is running out. The president had some meetings with top advisers right after the election. How much time do I have? They said about a year. It's june. Half of that year is almost up. A third of the committees are investigating the white house. To push back on one thing, with all due respect, I don't think it's a good thing whether you're a republican or democrat, that the public has lost faith in the government. What is happening in this country, more and more, even before 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 to go to boston to talk to milennials. The best and brightest in harvard, in suburban virginia, a high-level of civic engagement, they don't trust government. The next generation is staying out of government. Big government, the best construction on the irs scandal is big government is impossible to monitor. Wcvb wcvb gets, the bigger the distrust ought to be. dismantle to a positive agenda. We're out of time. Thank you all very much. Katrina is going to stick around to answer your questions for the web extra. Check it out at abcnews.Com/this week. And up next -- graduation

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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