All-Star Panel: Lois Lerner guilty of criminal offenses?

'Special Report' All-Star panel weighs in


This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," April 8, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R – OH, HOUSE SPEAKER: Listen, I made clear, Lois Lerner was either going to tell us the truth or we are going to holder her in contempt. And if she is not going to tell us the truth, we are going to hold her in contempt. The House will vote. The House will hold her in contempt.

REP. STENY HOYER, D - MD: Nobody wants to see people targeted by the IRS on their taxes. However, this is really turning into a witch- hunt, frankly, to serve the base of the Republican Party.


SHANNON BREAM, ANCHOR: What happens next for Lois Lerner? Well, let's talk about it with our panel, syndicated columnist George Will, Mara Liasson, national political correspondent of National Public Radio, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. Good to see all of you. We know two things are in the immediate works. The House Ways and Committee is going to vote to ask DOJ to pursue criminal charges. They've outlined three things that they think the DOJ should move forward on. George, any chance the Justice Department takes that up?

GEORGE WILL, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: No. They are referring it to the headquarters of the current cover-up, which is Holder's Justice Department. We've had three major scandals in the last 40 years -- Watergate, Iran Contra, and this one. The first two were investigated, perhaps because they were under Republican presidents, vigorously by the press and also by select committees of Congress. That's not happening with this one.

In each case, each of the three cases, the question has been, how high does culpability rise? Specifically, does it get to the White House?  If the select committee on Watergate had not the power to compel testimony and the energy and resources to investigate, they never would have gotten to a man named Alexander Butterfield, who when asked before he testified in a pre-testimony interview, is there a White House Oval Office taping system? And he said, oh, yes, there it is. Richard Nixon would have finished his second term. So it matters that this scandal, the third major scandal of the last 40 years, is simply not being comparably investigated.

BREAM: Well, Mara, what do you make of Steny Hoyer's accusation that this has turned into nothing but a witch-hunt?

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Well, I do think that this is important for the Republican Party base. I think it's somewhat faded as an issue that's kind of gripped a larger public. But I do think that she can be held in contempt. The House certainly will vote for it. But I don't think that that matters that much. Nothing is going to happen to her. She's not going to jail.

Whether they can actually compel her finally to talk, some of the argument is it is rather technical, whether she actually gave up her Fifth Amendment rights because she did make a statement, which it was highly unusual. Usually you don't come and say anything – you just sit there.

BREAM: That's something that the ranking member, of course, Elijah Cummings has said, they're wrong about this. She didn't take the Fifth, and he says the legal authorities agree with him that she hasn't taken the Fifth.

LIASSON: I'm not a lawyer, so I don't know. But that was an unusual situation.

BREAM: It was. All right, Charles, so this contempt vote probably coming Thursday the with the House Oversight Committee. Does anything come of it? As Mara said, if you can't send her to jail, will she ever be compelled to testify short of maybe an immunity deal?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, nothing will come of the contempt vote. Nothing will come of the DOJ investigation, because clearly the administration has no interest in investigating this. When you think how far we've come in this scandal, it began with the president himself expressing astonishment and dismay and disappointment, and vowing to get to the bottom of this, firing the acting head of the IRS as a result of how scandalous it was of the IRS discriminating against these groups. It began with all this enthusiasm supposedly on the part of the press, and then it dissipated.

It shows you two things. The administration wants to stonewall, and, secondly, if the press is not willing to do anything on its own because it is not interested, then you will probably succeed, as happened in this case. We're now about eight months into this. There is no interest. It looks as if the trail is cold, and you get a Steny Hoyer saying this is a witch-hunt when the president was saying eight months ago it's a scandal. So now all of a sudden it's been written off as he she had, she said.

The problem is she was never properly handled, Lois Lerner. She should -- the only way this will ever progress is to give her immunity, because under those circumstances she will be compelled. But otherwise, we will go nowhere on this and it will die.

BREAM: It sounded like for most of this discussion as it's played out that Chairman Issa has hinted there would be no immunity. We don't know what happens behind closed doors, if they ever get any closer to a deal on that, but, George, do you think it ever happens?

WILL: I don't know. I share with Charles the view that I can see no argument against this. The point of this is not to punish this or that individual. It's to find out how institutions of government were used to punish political adversaries. That's the language of John Dean's memo to the assistant White House chief of staff under Nixon that started Watergate, "to use the federal machinery to screw our political enemies," quote-unquote. And that's what they've done here.

BREAM: And certainly that accusation continues to grow as more and more groups come forward saying that they feel like they are being targeted by the IRS even after this Lois Lerner discussion and about the targeting of these conservative groups plays out. And, Mara, Charles talks about the fact that the president -- when he did talk about this, there was a showing of outrage. I think he used the word "outrageous." And there was the live statement I believe it was, and he talked about getting to the bottom of it. Do you think that he at some point will be called to account for why he didn't wrap it up?

LIASSON: Well, I think the White House feels they did get to the bottom of it. They fired the acting IRS commissioner. They got somebody new. He looked into it. He found that actually there were even some liberal groups who were denied the status that they were applying for. I think the White House feels this is over, done, and not an issue for them anymore.

KRAUTHAMMER: And the White House is wrong, of course. It may prevail in the press, but it got to the middle of it, at best, not the bottom, possibly the middle. But the question is did it really end with Lois Lerner, is she the one who thought all of this up? There was a lot of evidence there was interaction with the White House and it simply hasn't been looked at. The attorney general has zero interest in doing it. You can be sure that his investigation will yield nothing. And unless she is given use immunity, I think this thing is gonna die. It will be a textbook case of how with stonewalling and an inattentive press you can get away with a major scandal.

BREAM: I want to point out just how much there is tension between administration and Republicans on the Hill. A little bit of an interchange today, the attorney general, Eric Holder, was on the Hill testifying, and he and Republican Congressman from Texas Louie Gohmert got into it just a bit.


REP. LOUIE GOHMERT, R - TX: Sir, I've read you what your department promised, and it is inadequate. And I realize that contempt is not a big deal to our attorney general, but it is important that we have proper oversight.

ERIC HOLDER, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: You don't want to go there. You don't want to go there.

GOHMERT: I don't want to go there?


GOHMERT: About the contempt?

HOLDER: You should not assume that that is not a big deal to me. I think that it was inappropriate, I think that it was unjust, but never think that was not a big deal to me. Don't ever think that.

GOHMERT: Well, I'm just looking for evidence, and normally we're known by our fruits, and there have been no indications that it was a big deal because your department has still not been forthcoming in producing the documents that were the subject of the contempt.


BREAM: Mara, quick final word to you on this.

LIASSON: Well, I think that Eric Holder is a favorite punching bag up on the Hill. But I do think the Republicans do need to make a decision in the IRS case. Is Lois Lerner held in contempt more useful to them or with immunity and perhaps giving them information? That's the decision they've got to make.

BREAM: All right, that's it for the panel on this topic, but next up, does equal pay for equal work, work as a campaign issue? We'll talk about it.

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