May 23, 2013

Is the Obama administration mastering the art of evasiveness?

Guests: Jay Sekulow, Juan Williams

This is a rush transcript from "Hannity," May 23, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

ERIC BOLLING, GUEST HOST: We begin with some breaking developments regarding the targeting of conservatives by the IRS. Fox News has confirmed through sources on the Hill that Lois Lerner, the head of the tax agency's exempt organization's office, has been placed on administrative leave with pay. This afternoon, Lerner informed her colleagues via e-mail and cited only, quote, "the events of recent days."

But that is not the only bad news for Lerner and team Obama. According to the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Ms. Lerner may soon be required to return to Capitol Hill to testify. Congressman Darrell Issa says, he believes Lerner waived her Fifth Amendment rights yesterday when she delivered an opening statement. In other words, thanks to that monumental legal misstep, she is still under subpoena and she may be forced to answer questions in the coming days.

But Lois Lerner is the merely the latest in a long line of administration officials who have attempted to avoid accountability recently. Make no mistake, this path of obstruction begins at the top with President Obama.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Well, let me take the IRS situation first. I first learned about it from the same news reports that I think most people learned about this. I think it was on Friday.


BOLLING: See that? The buck doesn't stop at his desk. He didn't know the IRS was working behind the scenes to help him win re-election. Right? So, what about Eric Holder? Remember, his agency has been caught spying on reporters here at Fox News Channel and elsewhere. So, will he take responsibility?


ERIC HOLDER, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I was not the person who was involved in that the decision.

I was recused in that matter.

I don't know what happened there about with the interaction between the AP and the Justice Department. I was recused from the case.

I don't have a factual basis to answer the questions that you have asked because I was recused. I don't know what has happened in this matter.


BOLLING: Just like his boss, Eric Holder can't be blamed. He was kept in the dark about his own department's actions. How convenient.

But when playing dumb isn't enough, you have to flee the scene of the crime. And that is exactly what former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did to avoid answering questions about Benghazi.

So, whether it's the president, members of his Cabinet or Lois Lerner, it's time to find out what they are so afraid of. After all, what could be so dangerous about the truth?

Joining me now with reaction are Jay Sekulow from the American Center for Law and Fox News political analyst Juan Williams.

I have to go right to you, Juan. Boy oh boy, scandal-palooza. Let's start with the IRS. It seems to be the one with the latest right now. We'll get to Benghazi in a second. But come on, you can't excuse this. President Obama tells us he found out about it on TV. Do you believe that?

JUAN WILLIAMS, FOX NEWS POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. And I think that's a good thing. It's a good thing that he had nothing to do with this. You wouldn't want the president of the United States bringing politics into the IRS in any forms. So, I'm absolutely pleased. There's a question as to whether or not his counsel should have informed him earlier, given him some warning. But when you stop and think about it, you don't want these political people getting involved, telling the IRS what to do, what not to do and potentially using the IRS as weapon against political opponents.

BOLLING: Jay, President Obama, when he told us that he found out about it on TV. He said that no one around him knew. Jay Carney agreed with him. Then since that day about a week and a half ago, we've learned that his chief of staff actually knew about it. We also learned that his White House counsel knew about what was going on at the IRS. Do you believe President Obama had no clue?

JAY SEKULOW, AMERICAN CENTER FOR LAW AND JUSTICE: No. I believe that in fact the White House was well informed. We know a couple of things that are important to point out factually from what my friend Juan said. And number one, we know that the White House counsel was informed by the deputy secretary of the treasury. Now, that is the president's lawyer. And the president's lawyer didn't bother to tell the president of the United States? That's number one. And number two, we also know that the chief of staff and the deputy chief of staff met with Lois Lerner, now former I guess on leave had a tax exempt, about how to get the information out about the inspector general's report before that report was released.

And let me say something else, Eric. I released this information today. I'm handling 27 of the conservative cases, in 15 of those cases, letters from Lois Lerner to my clients including the letters asking for membership lists, donor information, the inappropriate inquiry came out in March and April of last year, which is nine months after Lois Lerner said, she put in an end to that part of the program and of course she was dismissed about four hours after those letters became public. Her name is on those letters that went out. And Lois Lerner was meeting with White House counsel, that tells me a lot.

BOLLING: Now, I could do a whole show on each one of these scandals. We have to move on to the next one to make sure we get them all in there.

Department of Justice looking into phone records at both the AP and now we've learned Fox could be as many as several hundred phone lines. Juan, you can't think this is OK, and think I've heard you say, this is not OK, this is an overreach.

WILLIAMS: Oh, yes, gosh, I think in the case of James Rosen here at Fox, the idea that he is just asking for information. They cite him, Eric, for trying to persuade a source that came at the State Department to give him information. Boy, I'll tell you, I think I would be in -- I think the whole bunch of people who think journalism is a legitimate craft would be in jail if that was the case.

The AP story is a little different. I think AP made some big mistakes and I think the government was trying to protect a double agent who was a Saudi agent who was embedded. And, you know, I think AP made some mistakes. And I understand what was happening there.


WILLIAMS: Although, I thought the breadth of the subpoena, in other words, New York, Washington, Capitol Hill, they went too far in trying to get information. I think they could of better targeted although I have yet to hear their side of that story.

BOLLING: Jay, apparently they used the Espionage Act to get this search warrant for James Rosen's records. Is that an overreach?

SEKULOW: I think it was a complete overreach and I agree with Juan completely on both of these points. On the James Rosen case in particular, I'll tell you where that's particularly troubling to me as a First Amendment lawyer. It's one thing if you have got a leak within the State Department, that's pretty unclassified information, go after that leak within the State Department. But to target the reporter, I mean, the First Amendment, freedom of the press is one of hallmarks of liberty. And the idea that the Department of Justice has targeted James Rosen, asked for information or result with subpoenas, access to his parents' e-mails and phone records, this is absurd.

BOLLING: All right.

SEKULOW: The AP case is a little bit different because of the National Security implications there, but again, I think in both cases is an overreach but the James Rosen case, unbelievable.

BOLLING: Hold on, Juan, squeezing a lot into this A block. President Obama today delivered an hour long speech on counter terror. Boy, the timing of it kind of stinks to me. There are a lot of things that we want to hear. Three hundred million of us are going to be in backyard this weekend, barbecuing, probably talking about the three scandals. Does President Obama think we are going to chase this rabbit down a hole and not talk about these three scandals this weekend?

WILLIAMS: Well, I mean, I don't know what he thinks there. But I'll tell you this, the polls indicate most Americans aren't following it, especially not the Benghazi story. The IRS story, the one that Jay and I are focused on is the one that's getting the most attention. A Fox poll this week had about third of Americans aware of it, concerned about it. And the key issue there is both Democrats and Republicans don't like abuse of IRS powers because, you know, what? No matter which side you are on, you think, "Hey, buddy, I could be next. I don't like this. Stop it."

SEKULOW: Of course, it was Democratic senators that asked the IRS to do it. Democratic senators asked the IRS to investigate these conservative groups.

Let me give you something else, Eric, really quickly here. And that is, today we saw for the first time another series of letters from the Internal Revenue Service now asking for compliance audits of groups that are already 501-c4s, that's just happening now. Another scandal about to take place.

BOLLING: Guys, hang in there. Take a listen to Eleanor Holmes Norton asking the inspector general about this IRS scandal, listen to what she had to say and listen to what he had to say.


REP. ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON, D-D.C.: Did you find any evidence that anyone in the White House in particular suggested that the IRS target conservative organizations or that they played any role whatsoever in selecting the criteria?

RUSSELL GEORGE, TREASURY INSPECTOR GENERAL: No, Congresswoman, but in all honesty we didn't look at the White House. We didn't question anyone as to whether or not they received any direction from the White House.

NORTON: That specific question was not asked?

GEORGE: That's correct.


BOLLING: Half minute for each. Jay, you go first, scratching my head, why not ask that question?

SEKULOW: Yes. Well, why not? Of course because it was an audit and not an investigation. And we need to realize the inspector general's report was incomplete, it is certainly damaging to the IRS but the fact of the matter is, you never asked the White House anything. So, his statements about what the White House knew or did not, know absolutely irrelevant, meaning it was under law.

BOLLING: Why do you think that question wasn't asked? Was the appointment by the administration that specific inspector general?

WILLIAMS: No, I think Eric and I think Jay would agree that what the inspector general Mr. George was looking for was exactly who was in charge. Who made this decision? He wasn't looking at influence. So, they are trying to, you know, bore down in trying to find exactly who is responsible.

Now, I will say this. That when you have this kind of investigation going on, you don't want everybody sticking their hands in the pie. And I think that is one of the realities here. So, when you ask about partisan influence, you got to remember, Doug Shulman, he was up there yesterday, he is a Republican, he is a Republican.

BOLLING: Juan, we got to leave it there. Jay Sekulow, Juan Williams, great discussion.

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