NBC's Gregory Scolds GOP for Comparing Obama to Nixon

On Sunday's NBC Meet the Press, moderator David Gregory urged Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to condemn fellow Republicans for drawing parallels between the scandals rocking the Obama administration and those that occurred under President Nixon: "Would you call on Republicans who talk about impeaching the President or who talk about this as a Nixonian-style cover-up with regard to Benghazi, would you like them to stop it?" [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]

McConnell responded: "Well, what I think we ought to do is complete the investigation and found out – find out what exactly happened....we know the administration kind of made up a tale here in order to make it seem like it wasn't a – a terrorist attack. I think that's worthy of investigation and the investigations ought to go forward."

Unsatisfied with McConnell's demand for an investigation, Gregory attempted to put word's in the Senator's mouth: "I just want to come back to this because I think it's important which you've made a point of saying what you have not said about all of this. There are Republicans, in an organized fashion, accusing the President of being Nixonian, of comparing things to Watergate and Iran-Contra. Aren't you saying that you think that's overblown?"

McConnell reiterated: "Well, I can speak for myself. And what I'm saying is this is an investigation into what happened in Benghazi that is worth conducting. It's important to find out what happened and that investigation is underway."

During the panel discussion later in the show, The Washington Post's Bob Woodward used the very "Nixonian" phrase that Gregory had rejected: "This is not Watergate, but there are some people in the administration who have acted as if they want to be Nixonian, and that's a very big problem."

Turning to Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan, Gregory confessed: "...you wrote something this week that really struck me in your column on Friday. 'We are in the midst,' you write, 'Of the worst Washington scandal since Watergate....[The IRS and AP scandals] have left the administration's credibility deeply, probably irretrievably damaged.'"

Gregory then attacked her premise: "I have to say, Peggy, what you don't talk about here is an administration for a man [Ronald Reagan] that you worked for, who led the Iran-Cantra – Contra scandal where they ran a secret war and lied to Congress and all the rest. Over – overstatement here?"

Noonan pushed back: "I don't think so. I think this is – what is going on now is all three of these scandals makes a cluster that implies some very bad things about the forthcomingness of the administration and about its ability to, at certain dramatic points, do the right thing."

She emphasized the IRS scandal in particular: "...this IRS thing is something I've never seen in my lifetime. It is the revenue-gathering arm of the U.S. government going after political-" Gregory interrupted her to actually make his own Nixon reference, seemingly validating the comparison: "Peggy, but, wait a second. Richard Nixon specifically directed people to investigate to audit people. I mean, of course, we've seen it in our lifetime."

A still-puzzled Gregory turned to Democratic Congressman Xavier Becerra: "I'm struck that Peggy seems to be more critical than Senator McConnell was this prog – program, who clearly did not want to use comparisons to Watergate and Nixon and the like."


Here are excerpts of the May 19 Meet the Press:

10:50AM ET

(...)

DAVID GREGORY: I want to move on to Benghazi and some of the questions that Republicans have been asking about this. If – if you look at this, as objectively as you can, it appears to be a –  a – an episode of a failure on the part of the administration to adequately secure an overseas outpost, compound – diplomatic compound at a time of war when we have been involved in – in getting rid of Qaddafi in Libya. And, perhaps, at the very worst, some effort by the administration to spin what the actual cause was of the attack. Why does it go anywhere beyond that?

MITCH MCCONNELL [SEN. R-KY]: Well, that's not insignificant. I mean, the fact that the personnel there were not adequately secured is...

GREGORY: Right.

MCCONNELL: ...is not insignificant. Clearly, we didn't have enough security there to protect our ambassador and the people on the ground there.

GREGORY: Right. But – but – but – but-

MCCONNELL: And it's also-

GREGORY: But Republicans are talking about a massive cover-up. So, no – I mean, the president has said that's very significant – but Republicans are talking about a massive cover-up, they're talking about impeachment, they're talking – I mean, all of these things that seem sort of over the top, um, with regard to what's happening here.

MCCONNELL: I don't think I've said any of those things. I – I think you're talking about others may have said various things about this.

GREGORY: Right.

MCCONNELL: Let me tell you how – what I think about it. It's clear that there was inadequate security there and it's very clear that it was inconvenient within six weeks of the election for the administration to, in effect, announce that it was a – a terrorist attack. I think that's worth examining. It is going to be examined. And it's important when, you know, this is the first time we've had an ambassador killed in the line of duty since the late 70s.

GREGORY: I do – well, I want to clarify this because you are the leader of the Republicans in the Senate. You're one of the leading Republicans in America. Do you – would you call on Republicans who talk about impeaching the President or who talk about this as a Nixonian-style cover-up with regard to Benghazi, would you like them to stop it?

MCCONNELL: Well, what I think we ought to do is complete the investigation and found out – find out what exactly happened. And I think we have a sense of what happened. We know there was inadequate security. We know an American ambassador and three other brave Americans got killed, and we know the administration kind of made up a tale here in order to make it seem like it wasn't a – a terrorist attack. I think that's worthy of investigation and the investigations ought to go forward.

GREGORY: But do you have specific evidence that they made up a tale or was it based on information they had at the time?

MCCONNELL: Well, the talking points clearly were not accurate. And I think getting to the bottom of that is an important investigation.

GREGORY: But I just want to – I just want to come back to this because I think it's important which you've made a point of saying what you have not said about all of this. There are Republicans, in an organized fashion, accusing the President of being Nixonian, of comparing things to Watergate and Iran-Contra. Aren't you saying that you think that's overblown?

SEN. MCCONNELL: Well, I can speak for myself. And what I'm saying is this is an investigation into what happened in Benghazi that is worth conducting. It's important to find out what happened and that investigation is underway.

(...)

11:05AM ET

GREGORY: Bob Woodward, you're no stranger to these kinds of controversies in Washington. How has the administration handled this, this past week?

BOB WOODWARD [ASSOCIATE EDITOR, THE WASHINGTON POST]: Well, first of all, I mean, the – the people are making comparisons to Watergate. This is not Watergate, but there are some people in the administration who have acted as if they want to be Nixonian, and that's a very big problem. I think-

GREGORY: Who and how?

WOODWARD: Pardon? Well, I think on the whole Benghazi thing. You look at those talking points and, I mean, the initial draft by the CIA very explicitly said we know that activists who have ties to Al Qaeda who are involved in the attack. And then you see what comes out a couple of days later and there is no reference to this. This is a business where you have to tell the – the truth, and that did not happen here.

GREGORY: Peggy Noonan, you wrote something this week that really struck me in your column on Friday. And I want to put it up on the screen and ask you about it. "We are in the midst," you write, "Of the worst Washington scandal since Watergate. The reputation of the Obama White House has, among conservatives, gone from sketchy to sinister, and, among liberals, from unsatisfying to dangerous. No one likes what they're seeing. [The IRS and AP scandals] have left the administration's credibility deeply, probably irretrievably damaged. They don't look jerky now, they look dirty. The patina of high-mindedness the president enjoyed is gone." I have to say, Peggy, what you don't talk about here is an administration for a man that you worked for, who led the Iran-Cantra – Contra scandal where they ran a secret war and lied to Congress and all the rest. Over – overstatement here?

PEGGY NOONAN [COLUMNIST, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL]: I don't think so. I think this is – what is going on now is all three of these scandals makes a cluster that implies some very bad things about the forthcomingness of the administration and about its ability to, at certain dramatic points, do the right thing. And I got to tell you, the – you – everyone can argue about which of these things is most upsetting, but this IRS thing is something I've never seen in my lifetime. It is the revenue-gathering arm of the U.S. government...

GREGORY: Peggy – Peggy, but, wait a second.

NOONAN: ...going after political-

GREGORY: Richard Nixon specifically directed people to investigate to audit people. I mean, of course, we've seen it in our lifetime.

NOONAN: Understood, but this is so broad. This is extremely broad and very abusive to normal U.S. citizens just looking for their rights. And here's the thing-

GREGORY: Right. No question – no questions about – about the egregiousness of it.

NOONAN: If it doesn't stop now, it will never stop.

GREGORY: Mm-Hm.

NOONAN: And the only way it can stop is if, frankly, a price is paid, if people come forward and they have to tell who did it, why they did it, when it started.

GREGORY: Congressman Becerra, I'm – I'm struck that Peggy seems to be more critical than Senator McConnell was this prog – program, who clearly did not want to use comparisons to Watergate and Nixon and the like.

(...)

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