Interviews with Reps. Chaffetz, Blackburn and Cummings

Interviews with Reps. Chaffetz, Blackburn and Cummings

By John King, USA - October 12, 2011

KING: More breaking news tonight.

Did the nation's high-ranking law enforcement officer lie to Congress about his knowledge of a botched government gun trafficking program?

House investigators today subpoenaed the attorney general, Eric Holder, and other top Justice Department officials, demanding they turn over communications relating to the Operation Fast and Furious probe. That operation tried to trace the illegal flow of weapons from the United States to Mexico's drug cartels by actually allowing some U.S. guns to go south of the border. It was shut down after some of the guns turned up at murder scenes in both Mexico and here in the United States.

House Oversight Committee Darrell Issa accuses the attorney general of lying when he told the committee he didn't learn about the operation until just a few weeks before his testimony last May. Today's subpoenas should -- should provide a paper trail.


REP. DARRELL ISSA (R), CALIFORNIA: And when we do a subpoena, we often get overly redacted documents. This is not the most transparent administration, at least in some areas. However, we have a constitutional obligation, we will do it, and we will do it according to the rules.


KING: Let's dig deeper now with the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Joining us, Maryland Representative Elijah Cummings. He's the committee's top Democrat. And Utah Republican Representative Jason Chaffetz.

Congressman Chaffetz, I want to start with you as a Republican here. This is the nation's highest-ranking law enforcement officer. And I will grant you there are some legitimate questions to be answered here. But when people are using terms like lying, negligent, incompetent before you have the paper trail, isn't that a bit reckless?

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R), UTAH: Well, we want to be very careful on how we articulate this.

But, remember, we have got two dead agents, we have 2,000 weapons that are unaccounted for, and I feel like we have been misled because for the attorney general to come to Congress and say, well, he just heard about it a couple weeks ago, and the documents show otherwise, it doesn't added up.

KING: Well, Congressman Cummings, let's get to one of the questions here. Let's first listen to the attorney general. He came before this committee back in May. Here's what he said.


ISSA: When did you first know about the program officially I believe called Fast and Furious? To the best of your knowledge, what date?

ERIC HOLDER, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I'm not sure of the exact date, but I probably heard about Fast and Furious for the first time over the last few weeks.


KING: He says over the last few weeks.

That is on May 3, 2011. Listen to this interview the president of the United States, not the attorney general, the president of the United States, had with CNN Espanol back in March.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There have been problems, you know. I heard on the news about this story that -- Fast and Furious, where allegedly guns were being run into Mexico, and ATF knew about it, but didn't apprehend those who had sent it.

Eric Holder has -- the attorney general has been very clear that he knew nothing about this. We had assigned an I.G., inspector general, to investigate it. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: It begs the question, how did the president know about this in March, and how did the president know the attorney general knew nothing about this in march, when the attorney general says in May he just learned about it a couple weeks ago?

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: I think the attorney general will clear that up, but the fact still remains that the attorney general sent to our committee a lengthy letter just this weekend explaining the situation. And I think that needs to be cleared up.

Keep in mind that I believe that Fast and Furious was a very unfortunate situation, sadly, that ended in the death of two agents. But at the same time, I think we have to be very careful as to how we proceed. I mean, I think we need to go where the evidence leads, but we have got a subpoena that has just been issued that is literally requesting tens of thousands of documents from the Justice Department.

And many of these documents are totally unrelated to the Fast and Furious. You have got to begin to ask the question, what is this about? Is this about trying to score some political points, or is it about what this -- our committee is supposed to be about, that is government reform, and I emphasize, oversight and government reform?

KING: Congressman Chaffetz, what are your colleague's point that are you going too far, are you asking for too much, are you overstepping your bounds and going from oversight into a political witch-hunt?

CHAFFETZ: Well, no. We want to make sure that this never, ever happens again.

We have two dead agents and we have hundreds of crimes committed by these guns. We just in the last few days heard about the Sinaloa cartel having over 100 guns. We essentially gave guns to bad guys that we knew were killing people and doing these nefarious things.

So we want to make sure that this never, ever happens again. But there are so many unanswered questions from this administration. They pledge openness and transparency, but that is not what we're getting. And so the attorney general does not -- his statement does not line up with the president knowing back in March that supposedly Attorney General Holder did not know about this, just as you pointed out.

KING: It could just be a matter of being more precise, correct, though,, Congressman Chaffetz? The president said this in late March. The president said this in late March. The attorney general comes in, in early May. So there's a five- or six-week period there. He says a few weeks.

It could be -- do you concede the point that he was not as precise as he should have been, that there's not a scandal here?

CHAFFETZ: Well, you can see where people can easily conclude it's either incompetence or he's just flat-out lying. We want to know.

CUMMINGS: John, not one single person has appeared before our committee saying that Eric Holder was briefed with regard to Fast and Furious and the horrible tactics that were used. Not one.


CHAFFETZ: But we have memos. We have at least five memos with Eric Holder's name on them.

CUMMINGS: There are memos, but again that has been cleared up in the letter that was sent to us this weekend, where he basically states that there are memos that come across his desk all the time.


KING: Let me jump in and read from that letter.

Here's what the attorney general said to your committee: "Given the volume of material to which I must devote my attention, I do not and cannot read them cover to cover. Here, no issues concerning Fast and Furious were brought to my attention because the information presented in the reports did not suggest a problem."

Congressman Chaffetz, to you first.

I understand, you have legitimate questions here, but do you read everything that comes to you in your office?

CHAFFETZ: Well, look, you have Lanny Breuer...


KING: Congressman, do you read everything that comes to you in your office?

CHAFFETZ: I should, and I should be held accountable.

KING: You should, but do you?

CHAFFETZ: This is a major, major investigation. It's a major investigation.

And if you have the chief of staff and you have the deputy attorney general in Lanny Breuer, who have got briefed not just once or twice, but on a regular basis, and you have two dead agents, the president of the United States knew about this back in March. How can the attorney general back then in May state say that he knew nothing about it until just a couple of weeks ago? That does not add up.


KING: Congressman Cummings, what does the attorney general have to do? If you're convinced that he can put this behind him, what does he have to do?

CUMMINGS: I think that, John, he has to come up and say what he has said in his letters and make it clear under oath.

But at the same time, I want to make sure that we are not harming any pending cases, that we are not putting FBI informants in jeopardy. And the FBI has already said that they are concerned about those kinds of things. And when I say in jeopardy, John, I mean possibly being killed.

This is serious business. We have to be very careful with our words and accusing the attorney general, the highest-ranking attorney in the country. Calling him an accessory to murder and things of that nature, I think that's totally inappropriate for our committee and we should not be engaged in that.


KING: Congressman Chaffetz, are you putting other lives at risk, additional lives at risk by demanding this sensitive information?


We don't want to get in any way -- in the way of any investigation that they're doing into those nefarious characters. There has been no added explanation. It begs one.

And I do agree with Mr. Cummings that until the attorney general comes before Congress under oath and explains it, these questions will continue to be out there.


KING: When will that be? When will that be? If you say there's a cloud over the nation's highest law enforcement officer and other top officials in his department, at a pretty critical time -- and these guys do pretty incredible and critical work -- when will that be?

Congressman Cummings, to you first. You're the ranking Democrat. You have friends in this administration. When can you get the attorney general up there?

CUMMINGS: John, I don't run the committee. The person who issues subpoenas, sometimes without even consulting us, is Mr. Issa. So you would have to ask him that question.

KING: Congressman Cummings, Congressman Chaffetz, appreciate your time tonight, gentlemen. Thank you.

CUMMINGS: Thank you. All righty.

CHAFFETZ: Thanks, John.


KING: Broken government is sadly Washington's answer to the country's job crisis. A big democratic jobs plan collapsed in the Senate last night and today Democrats and Republicans are doing what they do best, partisan finger pointing. President Obama didn't hesitate to blame Republicans but vowed to try again.


OBAMA: Now, a lot of folks in Washington and the media will look at last night's vote and say that's it, let's move on to the next fight. But I've got news for them. Not this time. Not with so many Americans out of work. Not with so many folks in your communities hurting. We will not take no for an answer.


KING: And to hear Vice President Joe Biden, the White House simply can't fathom the Republican opposition.


JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: When we put this bill together, we put together elements of a bill that they had always supported. When have Republicans been against tax cuts for small businesses? When have they been against working on infrastructure? When have they been against giving veterans a break?


KING: Well, here's tonight's truth. Yes, there are some parts of the White House plan that are borrowed straight from the Republican playbook, but it's a stretch, a big stretch for the vice president to say all of the president's plan has appeal to the GOP, in fact the White House use some of the specifics would be dead on arrival with Republicans that wanted to make a political point. Let's take a closer look at the defeated Senate democrat's plan.

The price tag, just shy of $450 billion. Senate Democrats pay for it with a sur-tax on millionaires. They knew no Republicans would support that. There are over $250 billion in tax cuts, most Republicans, like most of those tax cuts. The $100 billion in infrastructure spending to fix roads, and schools and so on, is opposed by most Republicans as more stimulus spending and Republicans are mixed on the other $100 billion in federal aid.

Most are willing to extend unemployment benefits but only if other spending is cut to pay for it. But Republican opposed aid to help state pay for teachers and first responders again saying, that's more of what they consider, the president's failed stimulus approach.

So what now? Both the democratic president and the Republican house speaker say they are open and ready to pass smaller bills designed to spur job growth. Here's the question though, can they agree now on those?

Republican Representative Marsha Blackburn from Tennessee can help us find the true there. Where is the truth, congressman? If the speaker says let's do several bills, the president says can you reach agreement, can you tell the 25 million Americans out there who are underemployed or unemployed that we're going to help you?

REP. MARSHA BLACKBURN (R), TENNESSEE: The American people are saying and it does have by partisan support. Let's get government out of the way. What we've done in the past hasn't worked, big bailout, T.A.R.P., stimulus, son of stimulus, not any of that. There's no single bill that is going to fix the job situation.

What it means is rolling back government, talking to a lot of these job creators, talking to hard-working taxpayers who are saying we are sinking in this Obama economy. Let's begin to do some things differently. And John, I think that's where the American people are. That's what we're ready to work on.

KING: We're in Washington, it is your Republican party controls the house. You have the Democrats narrowly control the Senate and a democratic president. The simple rules of Washington say, for you to get a bill that says lowers regulations, gets the government out of the way to use your language, for you to get the president to sign that, you have to give something. What are the Republicans in the house willing to give? Will you give the president that infrastructure bank? Will you give him aid to the states to keep teachers and firefighters and police on the payroll?

BLACKBURN: Everyone knows that's more stimuli. And that is not something that has worked. We are - I think that there are many people who are in favor of putting veterans back to work and the wounded warrior credits, looking at small business tax credits. What they are not in favor of is anything else that is going to be a big still or failed stimulus bill. It hasn't worked.

KING: The Democrats think they have a political issue with this. The Senate democratic plan would have put a sur-tax on millionaires. If you look on public opinion polling that Washington Post Bloomberg News Poll just asked this, do you support for deficit reduction, raising taxes on households earning over $250,000? Sixty eight percent of Americans support raising taxes on those above $250,000, 53 percent of Republicans. Why are house and Senate Republicans holding so fast to absolutely no taxes on more affluent Americans?

BLACKBURN: What we know is that people that want to pay more can already pay more. All they have to do is make out a check to the U.S. treasury and if they feel as if they are paying their fair share, they can do that. That doesn't need a bill. Anybody that feels like they are under taxed, they can just go ahead and pay more. They can contact their member of congress, contact the U.S. treasury, they can get that check right in. And I'm certain the U.S. treasury would be able to help them with it.

KING: Listen here to the democratic and the Republican leaders of the Senate, blaming each other.


SEN. HARRY REID (D), MAJORITY LEADER: It seems as if the Republicans don't really want to put Americans back to work. They believe a weak economy means a weak president.

SNE. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MINORITY LEADER: Nothing could be more ridiculous and absurd as to suggest that Republicans are somehow rooting against our economy.


KING: With this partisan divide, until we go through another election cycle and maybe the voters pick a different government or re- calibrate the government a bit, can those who are unemployed or underemployed just expect that partisan bickering or do you think in the next few weeks, they will actually see something that creates jobs, that the president will sign and that you can support?

BLACKBURN: John you know something everybody should agree on is, let's freeze regulations for a year and let's freezes federal spending. I have a bill that would freeze federal spending a couple of years. Let's let our employers have some certainty. Let them begin to know what to expect for the next couple of years. So just freeze it. Stop the madness.

And let's say all right, let's push all this aside, let's freeze it, then let's begin to get some of these regulations off the book that are impeding the growth of jobs. One of the things that you're going to see agreement on today and through the rest of the week is the free trade agreement. This is something that is expected to create 250,000 new jobs that are what people are wanting to see.

KING: Congressman Blackburn, I appreciate your time tonight. I think most Americans agree stop the madness. I think one of the problems in Washington is the Democrats and Republicans had very different definitions of madness. But we'll watch how this plays out in the days and weeks ahead. Thank you for your time tonight.

BLACKBURN: Thank you very much. 

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