Former Gov. Mitt Romney, the Republican party's presidential nominee in 2012, received large applause as he was introduced on Friday's broadcast of The Tonight Show by host Jay Leno in his first appearance on the late night show since he lost to President Barack Obama in November.
Leno asked Romney about the Obama administration's scandal-plagued week and gave him ample time to address the AP, IRS and Benghazi investigations. After making it clear he was done in politics, Romney was given nearly ten minutes to slam Obama's handling of Benghazi and his administration's involvement in other scandals.
While discussing the IRS scandal, Romney said it is time that a special counsel be appointed to investigate. "My own view is, that a a special counsel should be appointed. Because only a special counsel can investigate the administration," he said.
After giving his take on how Obama handled the scandals, Romney also opined on how Benghazi may impact Hillary Clinton's chances in 2016. "I think if Hillary Clinton is the nominee of the Democratic party, there will be a careful inspection of her record as Secretary of State," he said.
Romney often received applause from the crowd and took a few shots at President Obama, noting he is "not a fan."
Romney on the AP wiretap probe:
LENO: This AP story, with the reporters, your take on that?
ROMNEY: Well, I think it's early to conclude exactly what's happened there. I think a lot of people are concerned that the First Amendment is being challenged in some way when the Justice Department subpoenas phone records of some 20 different reporters over some period of time. And they're looking for leaks of classified information. And clearly that's something which is alarming to some folks. But there's going to be more inquiring into that. W e'll see what happens.
LENO: Well, the thing that interests me about this, isn't that under the PATRIOT ACT? Isn't that basically covered under the PATRIOT ACT?
ROMNEY: Well, the specifics here, where the administration is seeking information from -- from the media is something in a circumstance like this which some people find very troubling. This was not done during the last administration. And -- we'll see what the circumstances were. Was there life at risk? What kind of measures were being safeguarded? But this is something where we're at the very early stages, and clearly it raises questions. But those questions have yet to be answered.
LENO: Do you find it troubling? Or does it seem --
ROMNEY: Well I find -- any time you have an administration subpoenaing a a large number of records from a news media organization, that's something which is of concern and justifies closer inspection.
Romney on the IRS scandal:
LENO: Now the IRS scandal, which we had a little bit of fun with a few minutes ago. What is your take on that? They allegedly targeted -- well, not allegedly, I guess they targeted conservative groups, Tea Party groups. Explain.
ROMNEY: Well, there are really two concerns with regards to the IRS story. One is that, they've admitted now, that they did target conservative groups for extra scrutiny as those groups were looking to find a tax exempt status. And that -- that obviously is a violation of the very fundamental trust that we have that the IRS does not pursue a political agenda.
LENO: But when you said, 'they,' are you talking about Democrats or the IRS?
ROMNEY: I'm talking about the administration. The IRS reports to the Treasury Department, that reports to the president. The buck stops at the president's desk. He's indicated he wants to look into it and has already taken action to remove the head of the IRS.
But nonetheless, you ask, okay, was this appropriate? Why was it happening? Why was it allowed to happen? Who knew what when? And then, the other part of the concern, is were individuals being audited? Individuals who donated to Republicans or to my campaign or others. Was that used as a weapon, just an audit?
So there are two facets of this that are going to be looked into. And my own view is, that a a special counsel should be appointed. Because only a special council can investigate the administration. The president is saying that, he and his team will look into it. But frankly, they can't investigate themselves.
LENO: No, I understand that. But it seems to me, the AP story, I have more of a problem with. This seems to me, it doesn't seem to go any higher than the IRS. This seems to me like, not people doing the bidding of the king without the king's knowledge so to speak. You know what I'm saying? Like, 'Oh, we'll do this.' Do you think it goes to the White House?
ROMNEY: Well, it depends on what communications were held by whom. And who did know. And who said which things to which people. Peggy Noonan, in her column said, 'Look, if the president goes after certain people. targets them rhetorically and then somehow the IRS goes after them, for either further inspection, or for denial of tax-exempt status. Then that -- that sends a signal that might be necessary.'
Romney on Benghazi:
LENO: Now Benghazi. This is, of course, lingering. Is this a case of a cover-up being worse than the crime?
ROMNEY: It depends on what happens with regards to the actions and what we learn about that. But clearly, yeah -- the talking points, the White House changing the -- or the State Department changing the talking points.
American people were misled as to what happened. That's a real concern and the fact that it's been very difficult to pull out over the ensuing months. But I also think that in my own view that biggest question -- and I don't know the answer to this -- is we have American men and women serving our country in a a hostile place, and there was no effort to rescue them. And some say, 'Well, we couldn't have gotten there anyway.' Well, you know --
LENO: No effort was made at all? Or the effort failed, or the effort did not get there in time?
ROMNEY: No. Well, there wasn't an effort made, that we know of. There were special forces that indicated from Tripoli they could have been brought by C-30s -- and a C-130 rather, and brought in to help in a rescue effort. They were told to stand down. And the question is, well, why? Who told you that? What was the chain of command that came from? And my own view is that, that's something worth looking at. If an American is in harm's way, particularly one who's serving our country. Gosh, we ought to go with every effort we have to protect that individual.
Romney also said Benghazi would come back and haunt former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton if she decides to run in 2016.
"I think if Hillary Clinton is the nominee of the Democratic party, there will be a careful inspection of her record as Secretary of State. And that may or may not include mistakes made in one area or another," Romney said.
Romney also said Clinton's records on human rights is questionable.
"I think the broader brush will be has this administration advanced the cause of America's interests globally and freedom in human rights around the world?" Romney questioned. "If you look at North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Egypt, the major parts of Latin America, North Africa. Things have not gotten better for our interests, or for the cause of human rights. And that I think is going to be a much bigger question. And probably is the president's largest legacy of concern, or failure is what's happened around the world in these last five years."
Leno asked Romney what he would praise President Obama about, to which the former governor answered his handling of the Boston terror attack. However, Romney didn't praise Obama for too long and made it clear he is "not a fan."
"I'm not a fan of the president, in case you didn't know that," Romney said. "But look, I believe he cares for the country and wants to make America a better place for the American people. But I think he's not being successful as he would have hoped to have been."
"I wish he were more focused on doing what's necessary to keep America strong and to grow our economy and to get people back to work. There are a lot of people hurting," Romney said.