OTR Interviews

Is the White House losing the P.R. war in 'Fast and Furious'?

Is Obama administration losing the 'Fast and Furious' debate in the court of public opinion?

 

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," June 22, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: And a tough week for the White House thanks to the "Fast & Furious" scandal. First the White House coming under attack for the way it is dealing with Congress and now it is under fire for the way it is dealing with the media.

Press secretary Jay Carney going several rounds with the media.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Everything has been provided to - - congressional investigators and that is really the issue, isn't it? It is how did this operation come about. It originated in a field office during the previous administration. It was ended under this administration by this attorney general.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: In fall 2009? The operation "Fast & Furious" began --

CARNEY: The tactic began in the previous administration.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: OK. But the operation --

(CROSSTALK)

CARNEY: OK. That this -- the tactic began in the previous administration. And it was ended under this one when this attorney general discovered it and believed it was a flawed tactic. He then referred it to an inspector general.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAN SUSTEREN: So is the White House losing the P.R. war? Dana Perino was press secretary for President George W. Bush. She is co-host of Fox News' "The Five."

Dana joins us. Nice to see you, Dana.

DANA PERINO, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Nice to see you, too.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Is it fair to say that the White House gets an "F" in P.R. for how this is handling because this is exploding?

PERINO: One of the difficult things for the current White House is that "Fast & Furious" has been an issue that the Justice Department has dealt with almost solely. It wasn't something that bled into the daily White House briefing. So it's not something you were answering questions about every day. I don't know if President Obama has even ever gotten a question about it at one of the press conferences.

But now having asserted the executive privilege on behalf of the attorney general, now that comes to the White House. And one of the things is, for somebody that's covered this a little bit more, like here at FOX, then you know that actually, the operation that they're talking about was different than the one -- in the previous administration to this one, in that the previous administration have worked in direct contact with Mexican authorities. Under "Fast & Furious," which was a 2009 initiative, it was not.

Those are little things that can start to add up and chip away at your credibility when you're out there trying to talk about it.

VAN SUSTEREN: I see a boo premise. I bet for the most part, except for the Fox audience, that most people didn't even know what "Fast & Furious" was.

PERINO: Absolutely not.

(CROSSTALK)

VAN SUSTEREN: Most of the media didn't cover it. Now however, now that the president has stuck his nose into it with executive privilege for whatever reason it is now a huge story. And you've got the fact that -- you know, people when you hear about documents are being subpoenaed by the government, the government doesn't want to turn the documents over and the president says he's got a transparent government.

Now regardless of what the facts are, this is the most explosive P.R./voting issue, come November, at least right now.

PERINO: And other media having now covered it up to now, most of what I have seen is that they look at it through a partisan lens, that there is a witch hunt going on for documents. That it's political, instead of being something where people in Congress and the American people are trying to get answers to what happened? What did you know, when did you know it? When there was a nine-month period between when you said you knew nothing and then you retracted that in a letter and said, actually we did knowing something about it. OK.

Is it not unreasonable to try to find out than what happens in those intervening months that made you realized that you did know about it.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, I mean, obviously, there's always some element of -- people are going to scream politic back and forth on all things.

PERINO: Sure.

VAN SUSTEREN: But fundamentally are rightly oversight on justice.

PERINO: Yes.

VAN SUSTEREN: Right to ask for documents. Don't get documents, you're right to subpoena them, and you expect that subpoena would be answered.

(CROSSTALK)

PERINO: And the president of the United States has a right to assert executive privilege. But at the same time, you can't do so to shield wrongdoing. And you have to provide a log that shows why each document should be privileged, why does it meet the bar for privilege?

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, they say -- but they -- what the Justice Department will say, though, is that these documents are deliberative process and that follows within the umbrella of executive privileges. It's not just conversations between the president and his aides.

PERINO: Right.

VAN SUSTEREN: But that it extends out farther. That's what they say.

PERINO: Right. Which is a harder thing to prove and they're going -- you have to actually prove it. You stalked me. I know a little something about it because the U.S. attorney scandal during the Bush administration when seven U.S. attorneys were asked to resign, and were going to be replaced by somebody, by other people.

Democrats on the committee at the time went crazy. And so it's really hard to swallow sometimes. One the White House press corps not asking specific questions like they asked of me when I was the White House press secretary. For that issue. And in that issue.

There were no U.S. agents who were killed because of guns that we're allowed to walk into Mexico that we lost track of. And I don't think it's unreasonable for the American people and the Congress on their behalf to be asking for those answers.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know if you dig into it, you get way down in the weeds, and you can do all the sort of hair split, you're thinking why this is -- you know, different from this situation.

PERINO: Right.

VAN SUSTEREN: Why? But bottom line is, is that Congress has asked for documents. And subpoena them and the Justice Department is saying no. And the president says executive privilege, so, you know, it does nothing but raise suspicion. It is completely rational to be suspicious.

PERINO: Yes.

VAN SUSTEREN: Even if the White House and Justice Department have an absolutely airtight, for legitimate reason, at some point especially when you've got the Justice Department having to recall its letter for having false information, Republicans say it was deceitful, they say it was a mistake. There is enough smoke there for people to be legitimately suspicious.

PERINO: And you would imagine that they could reach some sort of accommodation where maybe Issa and his team could come up and actually physically look at the --

(CROSSTALK)

VAN SUSTEREN: The justice claims they offered that. Just said they offered that. Justice claims they offered that.

PERINO: Well, and Issa said they didn't get -- they wanted the law and they were going to be allowed to get. They were just going to --

(CROSSTALK)

VAN SUSTEREN: That's right. He says he didn't do that.

PERINO: I think what might happen is Congress will then sue the executive branch, they'll ask for an expedited review in D.C. circuit. It may or not -- may or may not get it before the election but you're right, either they are covering up something major, or they're protecting executive privilege at the cost of looking like they are protecting something major. And it might be minor.

VAN SUSTEREN: And of course, the overriding promise is that the president -- which, you know, the president brings on himself, as he said, he'd have the transparent most transparent NFEs in the business of trying to shield documents even if legitimately it doesn't, it looks suspicious.

PERINO: Well, and Democrats in the Bush administration demanded Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez resigned. Over the attorney general -- U.S. attorney issue and some other things that they complain about. He ultimate did and then was cleared of everything at the end.

VAN SUSTEREN: Can we talk about Jay Carney for a second? How much supervision supervision does he have? I mean how much is he -- is he going out there speaking to himself or is he getting marching orders?

PERINO: I'm assuming that he probably he's talking to a lot of lawyers. And one thing that's difficult is that as press secretary you have to be a mile wide and a mild deep on every issue, and you're not necessarily a lawyer. And the rules of executive privilege are quite complicated. And there's like rings around Saturn for who's protected and who isn't. And one of the best things to do, if you aren't exactly sure of the law is to say, I will get back to you, or invite one of the lawyers to come up and answer questions to the White House press corps.

VAN SUSTEREN: But he's getting -- but he's getting directions from both, I assume.

PERINO: Sure. I would -- yes, I would imagine that he's asking for a lot of information in fact so that he can provide information accurately, I hope.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, they're not doing too well on the P.R. area. Anyway, thank you.

PERINO: It's hard.

VAN SUSTEREN: Dana, thank you.