'Meet the Press' Panel Gangs Up on Rep. Issa, Dismisses Holder Contempt Vote as 'Distraction'

On Sunday's NBC Meet the Press, moderator David Gregory led the show's panelists in dismissing the House Government Oversight Committee holding Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt over the Fast and Furious gun-walking scandal as a mere political "distraction" created by Republicans. [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]

The committee's chairman, California Republican Congressman Darrell Issa, was also on the panel and interrogated by Gregory: "If you got everything you wanted, what do you think it would prove?....What would you be able to prove? I mean what the White House is saying is this is a fishing expedition, it's to score political points, it's all theater. What can you prove if you get everything you want?"

Issa responded:

We got a lie, we got a cover-up. But more importantly, five different times, we had the – the key people involved in front of a deposition, private deposition with Republican and Democratic consuls, and the administration's handlers, lawyers, said, "Don't answer, don't answer, don't answer." We need answers. We can't have answers when people take the fifth. We can't have answers when the Justice Department instructs witnesses not to answer questions.

Former Democratic New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson chimed in and questioned Issa's motives: "But with all due respect to the Congressman, this strikes me as political....I think the Attorney General has done a very good job.... I think there's a little bit of political payback."

Gregory then teed up Politico's Jonathan Martin to remark on how the growing Obama administration scandal would actually be bad for the GOP: "Jonathan, there is tension here among Republicans....There's a lot of other Republicans who say, 'Hey, this is not the focus here we want in an election year.'"

Martin went along with the spin:

Right. If you give truth serum, I think, to the House GOP leadership, they would say they'd rather talk about jobs every single day from now until election day. But the fact is, in the House, there is a strong block of conservatives that have prompted Speaker Boehner to sort of bend here. And so he is having to pursue this issue.

Look, I don't think they want to do this. I don't think Governor Romney certainly wants to pursue this. They want to focus entirely on jobs and the economy, on President Obama, from now until election day. But it's a testament to the chairman and the conservative strength in the House GOP that this is happening.

Correspondent Andrea Mitchell rounded out the panel's downplaying of the contempt vote: "[Democrats] think that they can win because, as Governor Richardson said, they think the people care more about the economy. It is a distraction. It is politics writ large in Washington, according to most people."


Here is a transcript of the June 24 exchange:

10:58AM ET

(...)                     

DAVID GREGORY: But Congressman, you – the documents you're after are not about the program itself, they're about how the Justice Department responded to you, what they were saying about you and your committee and the Attorney General's testimony. If you got everything you wanted, what do you think it would prove?

DARRELL ISSA: You know, Brian Terry's mother wants the truth.

GREGORY: One of the agents killed.

ISSA: Both the ranking member, Mr. Cummings, and myself promised to get the truth. We got a lie, we got a cover-up. But more importantly, five different times, we had the – the key people involved in front of a deposition, private deposition with Republican and Democratic consuls, and the administration's handlers, lawyers, said, "Don't answer, don't answer, don't answer."

We need answers. We can't have answers when people take the fifth. We can't have answers when the Justice Department instructs witnesses not to answer questions. And more importantly, I think the American people understand if the administration lies, the people who tell untruths to the administration, and then cover it up for ten months, have to be held accountable. That's not executive privilege. You don't have the privilege to lie to the American people.

GREGORY: What would you be able to prove? I mean what the White House is saying is this is a fishing expedition, it's to score political points, it's all theater. What can you prove if you get everything you want?

ISSA: Well first of all, what we know is, on a couple of occasions, specific testimony about memos and e-mails that were sent, we're looking for those. Those are in our discovery. What we really want to know is why did it take ten months, and what were they covering up? Because from this ten months, we go backwards to find out the important thing. Who at Justice, up and down the chain, authorized this and allowed it to continue?

Remember, Brian Terry was killed 18 months ago. We're not just talking about February fourth, we're talking about the three months before – after he was killed, and the months leading up to it. The investigation has to, one, hold people responsible, two, make sure it doesn't happen again. And the second part is what we're all about.

GREGORY: Governor, do you think the White House ought to try to find some accommodation here?

BILL RICHARDSON: I think both sides need to find an accommodation. But with all due respect to the Congressman, this strikes me as political. The administration has provided 7,600 documents. There's been 11 Congressional hearings. People want the Congress to deal with jobs. They want them to deal with the one million construction jobs that are going to expire unless they act. They're going to need to deal with close to seven million student loans that are going to go up unless the Congress acts.

I think the Attorney General has done a very good job. I mean I commend him for what he's done on challenging the Arizona immigration law, on what he's done with a number of other inquiries, the voting rights suppression that is happening around the country. I think there's a little bit of political payback. I like the Congressman-

ISSA: But Bill, you know...

RICHARDSON: But--

ISSA: ...Nixon got us opened up China. He created the E.P.A. and O.S.H.A.. There were a lot of good things that happened. In this case, the Attorney General has given 80,000 documents to the inspector general. And of the 7,600 documents that we received, some of them we didn't ask for, they're not pertinent. And many of them are completely redacted, completely black pages.

GREGORY: Alright. But so a lot of it--

ISSA: So let's understand, we want answers to specific questions.

GREGORY: Alright, I want to get in here because I want to talk about the politics of this, as well. Jonathan, there is tension here among Republicans.

JONATHAN MARTIN [POLITICO]: Right.

GREGORY: The Chairman wants to move forward. There's a lot of other Republicans who say, "Hey, this is not the focus here we want in an election year."

MARTIN: Right. If you give truth serum, I think, to the House GOP leadership, they would say they'd rather talk about jobs every single day from now until election day. But the fact is, in the House, there is a strong block of conservatives that have prompted Speaker Boehner to sort of bend here. And so he is having to pursue this issue.

Look, I don't think they want to do this. I don't think Governor Romney certainly wants to pursue this. They want to focus entirely on jobs and the economy, on President Obama, from now until election day. But it's a testament to the chairman and the conservative strength in the House GOP that this is happening.

ISSA: But Jonathan, you know, the Tuesday – the Tuesday Group, the most moderate Republicans, have come up to me time and time again about this. And it's not a fight we want. It's not what we want to be on. Yes, we want to be jobs and the economy. The Data Act passed unanimously out of the House, and it's died in the Senate, that would bring greater transparency and accountability and save money. We have those issues we're working on.

But, you know, some fights you pick, this wasn't one. Some fights come to you, and you have to do what you have to do. In this case, you'll have all the Republicans, moderate and conservatives, saying, "We don't want to do this, but we will do it." And you'll have a lot of Democrats voting with us.

GREGORY: And Andrea Mitchell, where are we on this?

MITCHELL: Well, what you've heard from the Chairman here, from Chairman Issa, is that Nixon did some things that were good. I mean that is the analogy. And by invoking executive privilege, the White House has now brought into the sort of symbolic confrontation, this constitutional confrontation, that the White House did not initially want. But they think that they can win because, as Governor Richardson said, they think the people care more about the economy.

It is a distraction. It is politics writ large in Washington, according to most people. But I think that this thing is going to play out. You're going to have this vote on the House floor. And the irony is, of course, that it will be up to the Justice Department whether or not to prosecute. You're not going to – this is going to go to the courts. I think that Chairman Issa would agree with that. It's going to go to the courts, and you're not going to have a resolution before the election.

(...)

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC