All-Star Panel: Reaction to Geithner book revelations

'Special Report' All-Star panel weighs in


This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," May 12, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Former treasury secretary Tim Geithner talking about his new book "Stress Test." He talks to us this Wednesday. I'll have a one-on-one interview with the former treasury secretary, talking about the White House, what it wanted him to say, aides there wanted him to say one time in the Oval Office, and then another instance about Social Security. And before Sunday's show appearance, he writes this, quote, "I remember during one Roosevelt Room prep session before I appeared on the Sunday shows, I objected when Dan Pfeiffer wanted me to say Social Security didn't contribute to the deficit. It wasn't a main driver of our future deficits, but it did contribute."

What about this? Let's bring in our panel, Steve Hayes, senior writer for The Weekly Standard, Mara Liasson, National Political Correspondent of National Public Radio, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. OK, Mara?

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Well, Jay Carney was asked about this today, and he said he was actually in that prep session and he remembered it, and he said he doesn't think that's what Dan said. He just didn't want him to say it was the main driver of the deficit. According to Geithner, he was asked to leave out the nuance.

The part of this quote that he goes on to say that I found rather charming is that he was -- Dan Pfeiffer said to him it would be a dog whistle to the left if he said it didn't contribute to the deficit because it would send the signal that the White House was not going to bargain away Social Security. He didn't know what a dog whistle was, how you send signals with carefully crafted talking points. But this is a behind the scenes look of the White House spinning and crafting talking points, and we've seen this happen before.

BAIER: So it wouldn't be as much of a dog whistle if the sentence was it wasn't a main driver of our future deficits?

LIASSON: No. The dog whistle is, the deficit is not about Social Security, which I have heard Democrats say hundreds and hundreds of times because technically Social Security is supposed to be separate -- funded separately even though it is borrowed from all the time --

BAIER: Here's part of that exchange between Ed Henry and Jay Carney.


ED HENRY, FOX NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He says he agrees with you that it was not the main driver --

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: That I'm sure is the point that Dan was making.

HENRY: He says I objected when Dan Pfeiffer wanted me to say Social Security did not contribute to the deficit. Not that it's a main driver but that did not contribute at all.

CARNEY: well, again, I'm very confident as I and Dan and virtually everyone else has said as well as economists have said repeatedly that he said that the point was Social Security as a matter of fact is not the main driver of our deficit. It's certainly not the main driver of our near or medium term deficits.


BAIER: So Steve, the White House is saying the treasury secretary is just confused.

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Well, and that may be the case.  It's entirely possible that when Timothy Geithner sat down to write this book he didn't remember the exact exchange and sort of shorthanded it in a way that wasn't fair to Dan Pfeiffer. I leave open that possibility. Maybe that's what happened. That's not what he wrote in his book. In his book he says in fact they were telling me not to tell the truth, and the reason that he objected was because they were telling him not to tell the truth.

So if what Geithner said is true that he was in effect told to say something that wasn't true, I think that's a problem. And look, I mean, the point I think here is that this wouldn't be surprising from this White House because we've heard this before. We've had other times when the White House has gone beyond typical political spin. Every administration from every political party engages in spin, but the entire point of spin to a certain extent is to avoid saying something that is outright false. But we've seen the administration say this, whether it's you can keep your plan when the White House had studies showing that people wouldn't be able to keep your plan, whether it was the Benghazi talking points, saying that the White House didn't have any substantive role in them or the Obama administration political team didn't have any substantive role in them. We now know that those things were just not true. And if Geithner is right in the way that he recalls this in his book, this would be added to that list.

BAIER: So what about that, the turn to this is a broader picture about an administration like the Benghazi talking points that critics charge was set out to tell someone to say something on a Sunday show that wasn't true.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, this is precisely what leaves me somewhat less charmed than Mara about this episode. And as Mara pointed out, because he remembered the dog whistle part, it clearly wouldn't have been a dog whistle had it been the statement that Jay Carney now says it was about a main driver. It wouldn't be a dog whistle at all.

Look, I mean it is very obvious that this White House has an arms- length relationship with the truth. You can argue that all administrations do, but here you get the idea that it's less than arm's length. It is actually a clearly manipulative relationship with the truth, that it is to be used or abused or inverted in order to, quote, "send a message," to send a dog signal. There was no reason to tell the lie, and it is a lie.  Everybody knows that Social Security is in deficit. The treasury makes it up and therefore, it contributes to the deficit. Geithner knows that and therefore he wasn't prepared to say an outright lie, an obvious arithmetic lie. The point is they didn't have to even say that. You want to send a message to the base that you're not going to touch Social Security, you simply say we're not going to touch Social Security come hell or high water. You don't have to attach a lie to it in order to send a dog signal. And that shows a level of cynicism that I believe is somewhat unusual for administrations. And I agree with Steve, it carries over to other instances. When Obama said you will not lose your plan, you can keep your plan, period, he knew, he absolutely knew that wasn't true, because it was a meeting with Republicans in Blair House early on in the debate in which he essentially admitted that, and then later when it wasn't a convenient fact, he denied it.

BAIER: Quickly, Mara, is this White House pretty sick of former cabinet secretaries writing books?

LIASSON: Yeah, probably, although I don't think this book does a tremendous amount of damage to the White House. As a matter of fact, if you read the excerpts, it's pretty complimentary to the president, thinks the president did the right thing. However, maybe the political operation and the spinners are, but I think on the whole President Obama comes off in this book just fine.

BAIER: An update now on that Senate vote we told you about earlier. The bipartisan energy bill has failed to advance. It promoted many of the same efficiency goals President Obama touted Friday in California, such as tightening efficiency guidelines for new federal buildings and providing tax incentives to make homes and commercial buildings more efficient. But the bill has been held up by disagreements as we explained over the Keystone XL pipeline and Democratic Party opposition to allowing amendments concerning the pipeline from Republicans. But again, it fails.

Next up, Senator Marco Rubio says he's ready to be president, but are you ready to vote for him? And what about the issue of climate change?

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