In a desperate attempt to dismiss the ongoing IRS scandal, on MSNBC's The Daily Rundown on Tuesday, host and NBC News political director Chuck Todd seized on reports "that it wasn't just conservative groups who were targeted by the IRS" and wondered if it was "turning into a story of Republicans overplaying their hand." [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]
Turning to his panel of guests, absent any conservative, Todd proclaimed: "The IRS 'scandal' looks like it's a bureaucratic scandal. Not the political scandal that Republicans were wishing that they had come up with." He made air quotes with his hands as he said the word "scandal." Panelist Michelle Bernard eagerly agreed with Todd's assertion: "Absolutely. They – it appears that they have really overplayed their hand."
After Todd lamented how the Obama White House had "stumble[d] out of the gate in their response" to the scandal, White House correspondent Kristen Welker touted reporting that liberal keywords were also included on IRS political target lists: "This certainly gives them a leg up"
Wrapping up the exchange, Todd attacked House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa for daring to investigate the scandal: "I mean this is the guy who is, I mean he is living the fable of the boy who cried wolf at this point. If you're John Boehner, don't you want to replace this guy? At this point, you could argue he's losing a lot – lost a lot of credibility as a watchdog."
That teed up Bernard to rant:
John Boehner needs to do something. He needs to speak to Darrell Issa, he's got to get the House under control, and he's got to decide, is he going to be – what is his legacy going to be in the history books? Is he going to be an effective speaker or is he going to be someone who has allowed the most conservative wing of the Republican Party to run roughshod over him and basically do absolutely nothing as members of Congress.
In another segment with the panel minutes later, Todd reiterated his dismissive attitude toward the IRS scandal: "It's been a White House on defense, we just talked about with the IRS scandal, sort of – quote/unquote 'scandal,' excuse me – controversy less polarizing and partisan, maybe perhaps in the rearview mirror..."
Todd was so busy acting as White House stooge that he ignored basic facts of the scandal that showed conservative groups were the only ones actually harassed by the IRS.
On Monday's CBS Evening News, correspondent Nancy Cordes managed to report those details:
Tea Party groups that were singled out for extra scrutiny saw their applications delayed – in some cases, for years – as IRS agents tried to determine whether they could be considered social welfare groups, and therefore, exempt from paying taxes....It still appears that Tea Party groups were asked far more questions and made to wait much longer than progressive groups. And Scott, Republicans point out that so far, not a single progressive group has come forward to tell Congress that they're upset about the way they were treated by the IRS.
Todd's effort to spin for the White House was reminiscent of his left-wing MSNBC colleague Chris Matthews going out of his way to label the IRS scandal a mere "kerfuffle."
Here is a transcript of the June 25 Daily Rundown panel discussion:
CHUCK TODD: We're now learning that it wasn't just conservative groups who were targeted by the IRS. A new report shows that liberal groups were in the IRS's line of sight as well. So is this turning into a story of Republicans overplaying their hand or more of a story about the White House's struggle to get ahead of a bad news cycle? Lets bring in our gaggle. From the Bernard Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy, Michelle Bernard, my NBC colleague at the White House, Kristen Welker, and Democratic strategist Tracy Sefl. So, Michelle, let me start with you. The IRS [makes air quote marks] "scandal" looks like it's a bureaucratic scandal.
MICHELLE BERNARD: It is.
TODD: Not the political scandal that Republicans were wishing that they had come up with.
MICHELLE BERNARD: Absolutely. They – it appears that they have really overplayed their hand. It's still a scandal, it's a problem, this is not what the IRS is supposed to be doing. This kind of behavior is absolutely horrific. But that being said, the Republican Party was trying to make this into something so absolutely awful and now we find out that they were looking at Democratic groups as well as Republicans.
TODD: I might argue, was the behavior horrific or was this an overwhelmed IRS agency on 501c-4s and the whole part of the un – I mean, I think one of the things we haven't talked about is the shadiness of that – of that law...
BERNARD: Of the 501c-4s.
TODD: ...and maybe that that is the issue. But Kristen, you and I watched this White House frankly stumble out of the gate in their response to this. Almost they were so fearing the political impact that they sort of let this – they almost gave it, by their lack of reaction, gave it legs.
KRISTEN WELKER: Right, I think that's right. They were slow to react, and when they did, it was jumbled and confusing. So this certainly gives them a leg up. But I think the question is what happens next. And a lot of people are going to be looking to see what happens with Lois Lerner. She oversaw the tax exempt division, she's been placed on administrative leave. Of course a lot of promises came out of the findings yesterday by Danny Werfel, are they going to put those into action, will they make a real change.
TODD: You know, Tracy, what the White House will tell me, is part of the reason for their lack of urgency is that they in there knew that they weren't this – they didn't do anything wrong. That this was sort of something that happened on their watch, but that sort of – and that explains the sort of lack of a sense of urgency.
TRACY SEFL: Sure.
TODD: So how should they deal with this now?
SEFL: Well, any White House would rather be dealing with some sort of bureaucratic ineptitude problem than some sort of nefarious scandal. And so that part's-
TODD: Sure. And they knew it was bureaucratic ineptness.
SEFL: And that's a difficult thing to unwind and unravel and the complexity of any federal organization like that. You can't just immediately be able to see all the way from end to end. And so certainly there was some time involved in the unraveling of this, the testimony is the reporting. And when those things happened, it's always better, in this case, to have the ineptitude rather than a scandal.
TODD: Well, of course. This sort of brings me to Darrell Issa at this point. I mean this is the guy who is, I mean he is living the fable of the boy who cried wolf at this point.
TODD: If you're John Boehner, don't you want to replace this guy as – I mean this – Government Reform [Committee] is the Congress's watchdog.
TODD: At this point, you could argue he's losing a lot – lost a lot of credibility as a watchdog.
BERNARD: Well, Darrell Issa has lost a lot of credibility, but over recent weeks, just looking at the farm bill last week, John Boehner has lost a lot of credibility also. This is a – this is a point in time, Chuck, where John Boehner needs to do something. He needs to speak to Darrell Issa, he's got to get the House under control, and he's got to decide, is he going to be – what is his legacy going to be in the history books? Is he going to be an effective speaker or is he going to be someone who has allowed the most conservative wing of the Republican Party to run roughshod over him and basically do absolutely nothing as members of Congress. It's a huge issue of governance, not just for the Speaker, but for Congress in general.
TODD: Tracy, it's been a White House on defense, we just talked about with the IRS scandal, sort of – quote/unquote "scandal," excuse me – controversy less polarizing and partisan, maybe perhaps in the rearview mirror, Benghazi in the rearview mirror. You know, climate change is an attempt to tackle, at least make it look like he's running Washington again.
SEFL: Not again, but still. And certainly as he enters this second term and really gets going, the more policy actions that we can see, I think, the happier a lot of people are going to be. As opposed to scandal, scandal, scandal or pseudo-scandal.