OTR Interviews

Inside the heated exchange between Issa and Cummings and the battle over former IRS official Lois Lerner's emails, in their own words

Two leading lawmakers reflect on angry exchange at Congressional hearing where Lois Lerner pleaded the Fifth again in IRS scandal

 

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," March 5, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: It is the interview you want to see, and you will, only here. House Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa goes ON THE RECORD about today's explosive IRS targeting hearing.

First, we're going to take you inside that volatile hearing. Chairman Issa confronting IRS official, Lois Lerner, with potentially damaging evidence, and Lerner, again, pleading the Fifth.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DARRELL ISSA, HOUSE OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE CHAIR: You emailed your colleagues in the IRS the following: "Tea Party matter very dangerous. This could be the vehicle to go to court on the issue of whether Citizens United, overturning the ban on corporate spending applies to tax-exempt rules. Counsel and Judy Candell (ph) need to be on this one, please. Cinci should probably not -- all in caps -- have these cases."

What did you mean by Cinci should not have these cases?

LOIS LERNER, FORMER IRS OFFICIAL: On the advice of my counsel, I respectfully exercise my Fifth Amendment right and decline to answer the question.

ISSA: Ms. Lerner, why would you say Tea Party cases were very dangerous?

LERNER: On the advice of my counsel, I respectfully exercise my Fifth Amendment right and decline to answer the question.

ISSA: Ms. Lerner in September 2010, you e-mailed your subordinates about initiating a, parenthesis, C-4 project, and wrote, "We need to be cautious so that it isn't a, per se, political project." Why were you worried about this being perceived as a political project?

LERNER: On the advice of my counsel, I respectfully exercise my Fifth Amendment right and decline to answer that question.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAN SUSTEREN: You will see more of Lerner's controversial emails in just a minute.

But now, the clash of the titans. Moments after Lerner repeatedly pleaded the Fifth Amendment, Chairman Issa abruptly adjourning the hearing, even cutting off the microphones as ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings tries to speak.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ISSA: Ms. Learner, you are released. You may --

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS, HOUSE OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE RANKING MEMBER: But first, I would like to use my time to make some brief points. For the past year, the central Republican accusation in this investigation --

(CROSSTALK)

ISSA: We're adjourned. Close it down.

CUMMINGS: (INAUDIBLE). Before -- (INAUDIBLE) --

(CROSSTALK)

ISSA: Thank you.

CUMMINGS: (INAUDIBLE) --

(CROSSTALK)

CUMMINGS: -- of the president's political enemies effectively and lied about --

(CROSSTALK)

ISSA: Mr. Cummings --

(CROSSTALK)

CUMMINGS: If you will sit down and allow me to ask the question. I am a member of the Congress of the United States of America. I am tired of this.

ISSA: Well --

CUMMINGS: We have representatives here each who represent 700,000 people. You cannot just have a one-sided investigation. There is absolutely something wrong with that and it is absolutely un-American.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here, here.

ISSA: We had a hearing. It's adjourned. I gave you an opportunity to ask questions. You had the mic.

CUMMINGS: I do have a question.

ISSA: I gave you (INAUDIBLE).

CUMMINGS: Chairman, what are you hiding?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's taking the Fifth. That's why the --

(LAUGHTER)

CUMMINGS: He can take the Fifth when he appears on FOX News to discuss the Republican staff report claiming that Ms. Lerner was, quote, "at the center of this effort, to, quote, target conservative groups." Although he provided a copy of his report to FOX, he refused my request to provide it to the members of the committee.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAN SUSTEREN: And the drama did not end there. Chairman Issa and Congressman Cummings taking their comments to the media.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ISSA: The fact is Mr. Cummings came to make a point of his objections to the process we've been going through. He was actually slandering me at the moment that the mics did go off by claiming that this had not been a real investigation. This had been a bipartisan investigation by multiple committees.

CUMMINGS: Today, I felt that it was appropriate that the members of the Democratic side have their say. As you can see, we were basically shut out completely.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAN SUSTEREN: And House Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa joins us. Good evening, sir.

ISSA: Good evening. I'm glad that's over. Aren't you?

(LAUGHTER)

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, it was quite fascinating.

Let me start first with Lois Lerner, her e-mails. But before I ask you about the specific emails you have shown at the hearing today, have you obtained all her emails?

ISSA: No, we haven't. The IRS continues to fail to comply with our subpoena to deliver many of her email.

VAN SUSTEREN: What is their explanation why they won't turn over, because you have the authority as the Oversight Committee to have those emails?

ISSA: They have no excuse for not turning them over. As a matter of fact, we have said turn them over to the Ways and Means Committee, who's also made a request. They've made a partial discovery. And as you know from your background in law, the last ones you get are often the ones you've wanted most.

VAN SUSTEREN: Have they said when they're going to give them to you?

ISSA: They have not.

VAN SUSTEREN: Let's go to the emails now. One of the emails from Lois Lerner, it says -- basically, as I understand it, your theory is that the reason for the targeting is because the IRS, particularly people at the IRS, didn't like the Tea Party and also they didn't like the Supreme Court decision Citizens United.

ISSA: It appears from the emails that Lois Lerner specifically felt that, whoever "they" are, they were pressuring the IRS to fix what the FEC, her employer, couldn't fix after Citizens United, a court case that the president once shook his finger at the U.S. Supreme Court in the House, in the well of the House because he didn't like it.

VAN SUSTEREN: In fact, we have that video of when the president did shake -- make that remark about showing he didn't like that decision. Let's look at that video at the State of the Union.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: With all due deference to separation of powering, last week, the Supreme Court reversed a court of law, which I believe will open the floodgates for special interests, including foreign corporations --

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: -- to spend without limit in our elections.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: And I'd urge Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps correct some of these problems.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAN SUSTEREN: Now the Supreme Court didn't like that, at least one member of the Supreme Court, remember, from that night. Is it your theory that that is the beginning of this narrative, that the president was signaling that something was to be done about this?

ISSA: The emails in which Lois Lerner seems to be the hub of activity include consideration of a rule, similar to the one they're proposing now, to try to rein in 501(c)4s. Oddly enough, organized for action, the president's own super PAC is a 501(c)4. But it appears that she was working that track and also working the track of trying to do what the FEC couldn't do in this case by not allowing these Tea Party and patriot-named organizations to go forward.

VAN SUSTEREN: What jumped out at me, at least in one of these emails, it said, "And everyone is up in arms because they don't like it." The everyone -- who's the everyone?

ISSA: Everyone who's a Democrat seems to be up in arms. Quite frankly, this is an example of a pretty partisan view of the world when you say "everyone," and "they" want us to fix it. Again, we don't want the IRS to fix problems determined by the president. That's exactly what the IRS is supposed to be above, is political influence.

VAN SUSTEREN: Are you going to seek to hold her in contempt for not answering the questions?

ISSA: Well, you know, the Speaker [John Boehner] called -- that he thought that was appropriate today. Our committee will consider it. I've conferred with some of my members. I plan on meeting with them before we leave this week, and we could, could consider doing it as early as next week.

VAN SUSTEREN: Chairman, right after the hearing, we also spoke with Representative Cummings.

Here's what he told ON THE RECORD's Griff Jenkins.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CUMMINGS: To date, I have not seen any evidence that shows where this was politically motivated or that the White House had anything to do with it, but yet, still, those assertions are being made by Republicans. I've said it over and over again, all I want is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. You cannot have a fair investigation where you only present evidence that you like and exclude evidence that you don't like. And I've asked that of the Chairman. For some reason, the Chairman did not want to hear what I had to say today. He closed the hearing, barring me from saying one syllable.

GRIFF JENKINS, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: What was your reaction -- he turned the mics off, for our audience at home. He turned the microphones off on you.

CUMMINGS: I thought it was extremely unfortunate. That is just not the way a democracy runs. This is still America. And I would fight for his right to say what he had to say for the Republican side. I would fight for the right of Tea Partiers because I believe in this democracy. I believe that when you have members on the Democratic side and members on the Republican side, they should have their say. You can't have a hearing without hearing one syllable from the other side.

JENKINS: So is it fair to say that Chairman Issa could do more? Do you believe he's driven by political motivation?

CUMMINGS: What I'm hoping -- what I was trying to do was accomplish what he was trying to accomplish. That is, get some information. We walked out there with nothing, with no information. We could have probably gotten the attorney to at least proffer, to tell us exactly what she would have said.

You know, she's going to have to face -- she'll eventually, probably, end up in court and, at some point, the court will determine whether she must testify or not.

But in the meantime, if we really want to get to the bottom of this, I think the appropriate thing today, once she said she was not going to testify, to at least be able to get a proffer. That's all I was trying to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAN SUSTEREN: Mr. Chairman, has Congressman Cummings joined you in requesting all the emails from the IRS?

ISSA: No. Never. It's --

(CROSSTALK)

VAN SUSTEREN: I mean, to me, that's, that's the most potent information. Because that will either exonerate or convict, essentially, Lois Lerner.

ISSA: Mr. Cummings is there with the president on not a smidgeon of evidence. As a matter of fact, our evidence leads to Lois Lerner. And that's why we'd hoped to hear from her. If the ranking member had wanted to make a motion before I had adjourned, I would have accepted. I adjourned. He then said he had a question. What you played there was after an adjournment. He then perked up and said, I want to ask a question. I said, what is your question. And then that exchange occurred because he didn't have a question. He was endlessly slandering the efforts of the committee.

But having said that, we want to get to the truth. If the attorney had a proffer, which, as you know, would be tell us -- don't tell us your client's innocent, tell us what we need to know. And he's never offered to do that. We've worked with this attorney. To be quite frank, this attorney in writing had supported the idea that she would testify under certain conditions. As we began rolling out an a little bit about what we intended to do in the hearing as far as questions, she decided not to testify.

VAN SUSTEREN: Did you share with Congressman Cummings before this hearing her emails in which she says, for instance, "The Tea Party matter very dangerous." Did you share that with Mr. Cummings?

ISSA: These emails were -- when the discovery comes in from the IRS, it goes to both of us together. So simultaneously, they've been receiving the same information, the same emails. They've been in every single one of 33 interviews. This is not something where we're asking questions behind closed doors. Attorneys for the House's Ways and Means Committee and the Oversight Committee have been in every one of these, Republicans and Democrats, and all the discovery has come to both committees.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. I suggest -- I've been pounding you for a long time about being more aggressive in getting information from Lois Lerner. I see you need information from the IRS. You need her emails. Have you thought of even seeking to hold the commissioner in contempt for failing to comply with the subpoena? Because if you've given a lawful subpoena to the IRS, this is his responsibility. And this is now almost a year old.

ISSA: You're exactly right. And just a few weeks ago, we issued to the commissioner a fresh subpoena.

VAN SUSTEREN: He doesn't need a fresh one. The subpoena is to the IRS.

ISSA: No, I understand. But now that he is in the custody of these, we wanted to give him an absolute straight chance. But there's no question. If he fails to comply with the delivery to the committees of Congress, then we would have no choice but to hold -- as we did Eric Holder for withholding information, we'd have the same situation with the commissioner.

VAN SUSTEREN: You mentioned Eric Holder, and according to at least one report, it says, "The officials from the Department of Justice told the "Wall Street Journal," that, thus far, meaning in January, "investigators have no evidence of the type of enemy hunting that would warrant federal charges being filed."

Do you know if they had these emails, because it might make them a little more suspicious?

ISSA: We don't know if they're interviewing anyone to speak. It appears as though they're not doing a very active investigation. Everything we've delivered by subpoena, they certainly could have received simultaneously and they could have gotten additional information.

Look, the U.S. attorney in the District of Columbia has declined prosecutions of federal workers who falsified work documents, who stole from the government, even one person who "bonused" her own daughter using the anti-nepotism rules using funds of the committee, of the agency she worked for.

We're very disappointed in Eric Holder's willingness to go after white-collar crime inside the federal government.

VAN SUSTEREN: Commissioner -- Chairman, we hope you'll come back. Thank you, sir.

ISSA: Certainly.