Sunday, May 19, 2013

Report on Congress


Dona:  Lucky VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.  Another week where we report on Congress and he's not the focus. We're covering two big hearings from last week with C.I., Ava, Wally, Kat and Marcia who attended the hearings.  We've also got Ruth with us to finish up some business from last week's "Report on Congress."  Friday saw a heavily covered hearing  -- often wrongly covered -- as the House Ways and Means Committee heard from the Acting IRS Commissioner Steve Miller.  C.I. reported on it in "Iraq snapshot," "IRS: 'Not corrupt, just incompetent'," Ava in "Guacamole and the IRS (Ava)," Wally in "Big lie revealed at House Ways and Means hearing," Kat in "The other Steve Miller appears before Congress," and Marcia in "No accountability for the IRS scandal,"  Kat, can I get the basics from you?

Kat: Sure.  This is a House Committee where the Chair is Dave Camp and the Ranking Member is Sander Levin.  They had two witnesses appearing before them, Acting IRS Commissioner Steve Miller and the Treasury Department's Inspector General over the IRS J. Russell George.  And one observation I'll make on the basic structure of the hearing?  We're used to attending the Veterans Affairs Committee hearings in the House and Senate or the Foreign Relations and Foreign Affairs Committees or the Armed Services Committees.  When they have a government official and and an inspector general both testifying -- Well, first, they usually have a team of officials and a team of IG staff -- they have two panels.  First, the official and his or her team testifies as one panel, then the second panel is the IG and his or her staff.  That did not happen Friday.  Instead, you had the IG sitting right beside the official whose department was caught in the scandal.

Dona: Alright, thank you, Kat. Wally, the IG is J. Russell George.  How did he conduct himself and how did he handle what Kat's describing, testifying at the same time?

Wally: Well, we're in the audience, so we're behind them.  We largely see the back of their heads -- although Miller, when he was trying to be really sarcastic would sometimes turn to a profile.  The format appeared to throw George early on.  I wouldn't call him intimidated but he answered just what was asked and did so briefly.  As the hearing progressed, he became much more vocal usually saying "If I may add" or asking if he could drop back to something earlier that Miller had answered or 'answered' in an incomplete manner. I thought he conducted himself very well, especially when you consider the nastiness that Miller brought to the hearing.

Dona: Was this aimed at just one side, this nastiness?

Wally: No, he was insulting to Democrats and Republicans.  If I could, I know we're in a hurry, but he was insulting in his remarks but he was also insulting in how he presented himself and was to men and to women but especially to women.  Kat?

Kat: Good point.  While Wally was speaking, Dona asked a question and Wally answered it.  Pretend Dona's Congress and Wally's Steve Miller.  While Dona asked her question, Wally would have had to have grunted, mm-hmmed, "That is true," etc-ed.  That's what Miller did when he especially disliked a member of Congress and he was the rudest to US House Rep Allyson Schwartz.

Dona: Alright and you covered Schwartz, Kat, so people can see an excerpt at your site.  Marcia, you caught him doing that to a male in your post.  Do you agree that he was more prone to do this to a woman?

Marcia: I don't know if he was more prone but he was louder and more likely to bark it if the member of Congress questioning him was a woman.  I thought it was the audience at first.  Like Wally said, we're just seeing the backs of their heads.

Dona: This was your first time reporting on a Congressional hearing last week.

Marcia: Right so this was the second one I did.  And it was nothing like the one on Wednesday.  I had to whisper to C.I. to ask if it was Miller making those responses?  I was starting to think -- I'm not joking -- that there was a heckler present.  It was that loud and that disruptive.

Dona: Alright and we are moving quickly.  It was a very, very long writing edition and pieces are going up.  So if you have a point to make, jump in because I'm moving very fast.  C.I., you reported on it in the snapshot but earlier, while the hearing was taking place, you found Miller to be very arrogant and wrote about that as it was taking place.  So what Wally, Kat and Marcia are discussing was apparent.  They all said to go to you for the big news of the hearing.  On Wednesday -- and see that day's snapshot, we don't have time to include it in full here -- US President Barack Obama spoke briefly to the press and gave a 558 word statement about the IRS scandal -- where various groups were targeted.  He stated that the IRS's target was "inexcusable," that "Americans are right to be angry about it, and I'm angry about it," that "I will not tolerate this kind of behavior in any agency, but especially in the IRS."  He stated Treasury Secretary Jack Lew had taken "the first step by requesting and accepting the resignation of the acting commissioner of the IRS."  Why was that news on Friday?

C.I.: Because Steve Miller is still the Acting Commissioner.  The scandal erupted last Friday with a 'confession' from the IRS' Lois Lerner and we now know that she could have given that confession in May of 2011 if not earlier.  But they weren't confessing because they knew.  They were confessing because the Inspector General was about to release a report.  That damning report helped the IRS scandal stay in the news all last week.  In an attempt to quell the controversy, Barack made the announcement you're talking about and people interpreted it as, "Miller's off the job."  Because that's what it sounds like.  If you demand a resignation and accept it, then that person is gone.  But on Friday, we found out otherwise.

Dona: Let me quote from the reporting you did in the snapshot on this, I'm going to grab one exchange.

US House Rep Tom Reed:  As you sit here today, you were not fired from your job.  And I can tell you, in my private experience, you would have been fired on the spot.  And all you were allowed to do is resign and retire?  And now you come here and try to say I did the honorable thing by falling on my sword' when nothing bad is going to happen to you.  You're going to get your full benefits.  You're going to get everything that's associated with your retirement as an IRS employee.

Steve Miller: [Laughing] Nohting bad is happening to me, Congressman?

US House Rep Tom Reed:  Financially.  You're allowed to retire.  That's the level of accountability in Washington, DC now. You're still acting [Commissioner].  You came here on the taxpayer dollar today. You're getting a paycheck for being here today.  Correct?  Correct?

Steve Miller:  [Pause]  Correct.

Dona (Con't): Okay, Ava, what else did we learn?

Ava: How about that he didn't take it seriously?  He was rude, he laughed, you name it.  He's walking with full benefits and pension.  He's still in the position, there's been no accountability at all.

Dona: Okay, as we wrap up on Miller, there were a few other things in that hearing which we learned.

Ava: Political groups were targeted, mainly conservatives.  Churches were targeted -- churches were even asked to provide what was said in prayers, if you can believe that.  We're supposed to have this strong wall between Church and State.  Volunteer organizations were targeted -- a volunteer organization, described as non-political and over 60 years old was among those targeted. Donor lists were asked for.  Not only were they asked for, the IRS then supplied them to the press which was a violation.

Dona: Alright.  C.I.'s pointing to Wally. We're all in DC, by the way, doing this roundtable, so we're all face to face for a change.  Wally?

Wally: Just to close out, Miller refused to acknowledge the severity of what took place.  As the Inspector General's report notes, this was targeting.  Miller refused to use that term, said he disagreed.  Minimized what took place over and over, insisted it wasn't criminal and claimed it was addressed.  What happened, how was it addressed?  One person got an oral warning and one person got reassigned.  And here's the kicker.  During the hearing, Miller declared that the person who got an oral warning might have been the wrong person.  That's how incompetent and lax his leadership is.

Dona: Alright, thank you, Wally.  Ruth, last week, we were discussing  the House Oversight Committee hearing on Benghazi.  C.I. reported on it in the  May 8th "Iraq snapshot," and the May 10th snapshotAva reported on it with the  "Crazies on the Committee (Ava)," Kat with "If today were a movie . . .,"  Wally with "Biggest Coward at today's Committee hearing" and Ruth with "An order to stand down."  Ava and C.I. called out McClatchy Newspapers' Jonathan S. Landy in "Media: The Destruction of McClatchy will be broadcast not printed (It all hits the fan)" and "Media: The destruction of McClatchy will be broadcast not printed (Iraq)" and you pointed out in our discussion, let me quote you: "I heard the NPR conversation or what ever you want to call it that Jonathan S. Landay participated in.  He was an uninformed idiot.  My only surprise was that Ava and C.I. did not pick him apart on how he lied about what the media was reporting in terms of the e-mails."  Ava explained that they didn't have time and also that they couldn't take his voice anymore.  A transcript was finally posted of the second hour of the program and I'm reading from it, this Landay, "There were no major new revelations at all. To sustain what we've been told is this cover up of malfeasants and mishandling of what went on. And a cover up that was intended to cover up the culpability of the president and his top people in the midst of the president's reelection campaign. Again, nothing really new came out of those hearings at all."  Yes, there were and we noted that last week.  We're short on time -- that's Jim calling to complain that we're not done -- my phone that's ringing.  Ruth, quickly, the problem with Landay?

Ruth: Victoria Nuland, State Department spokesperson, demanded -- as documented in the e-mails -- that the talking points be changed because she did not want the Congress and the American people knowing the failures of the State Department.  Mr. Landay sums that up briefly, "a senior official in the State Department, Victoria Nuland was definitely trying to protect her bosses, her superiors from Congressional criticism about inadequate security at the consulate."  He then goes on to blather at length about how "the most important point" is something else.  No.  A cover up is a cover up.  Ms. Nuland was part of a cover up and if Mr. Landay cannot grasp that, he is a pathetic reporter.  He minimized her actions, rushed over it briefly and then insisted everyone needed to focus instead on a non-existent demonstration which is a longer conversation, sorry.

Dona: Okay.  We've dealt now with Friday's hearing and picked up Benghazi from last week.  Wednesday, US Attorney General Eric Holder appeared before the House Judiciary Committee.  C.I., Ava, Wally, Kat and Marcia were present at the hearing and reported on it in  "Iraq snapshot," "Eric Holder's childish tantrum," "Biggest embarrassment at House Judiciary hearing," "Competency tests for Congress? (Wally)," "Outstanding participant in the House Judiciary hearing?," and "The shameful Eric Holder."  Wally, this one's more complicated, I know. But can you please set us up?

Wally: Sure.  Monday, the IRS scandal intensified with new details.  In addition, the news surfaced that the Justice Department had secretly grabbed -- without negotiation or prior notice -- two months of phone records from the Associated Press.  The two scandals, along with the Benghazi scandal, were swirling in the press.  Holder appeared before the House Judiciary Committee where the Committee Chair is Bob Goodlatte and the Ranking Member is John Conyers.  Both gentlemen called out the seizure of the AP records.  Eric Holder was the only witness.

Dona: Thank you, Wally.  Marcia, it was your first time reporting on a Congressional hearing.  Your thoughts?

Marcia: As I noted in my report, people can check my archives, I was happy Holder became Attorney General.  And then I never gave it much thought.  He's someone I've either ignored or only written positively about.  So imagine my shock when he came in there insulting and rude.

Dona: C.I. noted that in Holder's response to the very first question, his first remark was to slam the Republicans.

Marcia: Exactly.  But I think she got at it better the next morning when she wrote the piece comparing it to when Haley on Modern Family had her little fit and acted like her getting arrested was no big deal and not her fault.  That's how Holder was acting and it was appalling.

Dona: Thank you.  Kat?

Kat:  Let me do the IRS.  First, I want to quickly note this exchange.

US House Rep David Scott: On the Internal Revenue situation, I think we can all agree that the published reports which suggest that IRS agents were denying people their proper consideration based on politics, that's the allegation.  I assume you haven't completed your investigation but I think there's bi-partisan agreement that you shouldn't be able to do that.  Now you've publicly said that you're having a criminal investigation.  There are obviously criminal laws against denial of Civil Rights under 1983.  There's also a specific IRS code that's says, "Any officer or employee of the United States acting in connection with any revenue law of the United States who with the intent to defeat the application of any provision of this title files to perform any of the duties of his office or employment" -- and then goes on to show that's -- if you violate that -- that's a five year felony. Are there any gaps in the criminal code that would make it difficult for you to pursue criminal sanctions if you find that IRS agents were denying benefits under the Internal Revenue Code based on politics?

Attorney General Eric Holder:  That actually is a good question and I'm not sure what the answer is.  I think the provisions that you have noted are the ones that we are looking at.  There are Civil Rights provisions, IRS provisions,  potentially The Hatch Act.  And I think we're going to have to get into the investigation before I can answer that question more intelligently.  But to the extent that there are enforcement gaps that we find, we will let this Committee know and hopefully work with this Committee to make sure that what happened and was outrageous -- as I've said -- and if we have to bring criminal actions so that that kind of action that kind of activity doesn't happen again.

US House Rep David Scott:  I understand that certain individuals in the IRS have apologized.  Does an apology immunize you from criminal prosecution?

Attorney General Eric Holder:  Uh, no.

Kat (Con't):  Let me be among the voices noting that when Congress was raising questions about this last year, Holder should have started an investigation because what was being alleged was criminal.  He was completely irresponsible.  In his actions as well as before the Committee.

Dona: Alright.  Ava?

Ava: I'm dropping back.  To Friday's hearing.  Congress was asking questions about the IRS last year.  Steve Miller testified that when he appeared before them in July, for example, yes, he knew about the scandal and knew the IG was investigating it.  But he didn't tell them about it.  Why?  He insists he answered their questions.  No.  They were asking about targeting and he had information and refused to disclose it.  He lied.  And that the liar remains on the job is shocking.  Regarding Holder.  I think he lied too.  I think he knows a lot more than he said, my opinion.  Based on the fact that he claims he can't talk but then he does.  I'll toss to C.I., I know we're in a hurry.

C.I.: Okay. Disclosure, I know and like Eric Holder.  What Ava's talking about is that Holder rescused himself from the AP investigation.  The AP printed a story about terrorism.  Someone leaked details to the AP.  One potential suspect is Eric Holder.  For that reason, he recused himself from the investigation.  What Ava's talking about is that he will talk about -- on NPR for example, but in the hearing as well -- about the letter the AP was sent or some other detail and then he'll be asked a question about the letter or some detail and he'll immediately clam up and claim he can't speak, he recused himself and he's not following it.  You can't waiver on that.  You're either recused -- and completely out of it -- or you're not.

Dona: His biggest failure?

C.I.: At the hearing?  Being rude and defensive.  As AG?  Appointing someone to be over the AP scandal when, as he admitted in his testimony, he had no idea whether that person was also questioned about being a leak.

Dona: Okay, thank you so much.  We're running late but at least unlike USA Today -- see Cedric and Wally's "Psychics are running USA Today!" and "THIS JUST IN! USA TODAY EMPLOYS PSYCHICS!" -- we didn't 'report' on the hearings before they started.  This is  a rush transcript.  Our new e-mail address is

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Poll1 { display:none; }