Editor’s note: From Jack Langer, communications director for Congressman Nunes:
What Rep. Nunes meant by “tapped” was that the Department of Justice seized the phone records, as has been widely reported. He did not mean to refer to phone records of the cloakroom, but of the Capitol. This refers to the phone records for the AP from the House press gallery, which the DOJ admitted looking at. He was explaining that those phone records would reveal a lot of conversations between the press and members of Congress, since reporters often speak to Members from the press gallery phones. The notion of the DOJ looking at phone records from the Capitol of conversations between Members of Congress and reporters is something that concerns Rep. Nunes, bringing up issues related to the separation of powers.
HH: Joined now by Congressman Devin Nunes of California’s 22nd Congressional district. He is a member of the powerful Ways And Means Committee, and he will be holding hearings, along with his colleagues, on Friday into the IRS-gate, the great Tea Party purge. Congressman Nunes, welcome, it’s great to have you.
DN: Hey, Hugh, it’s great to be back on.
HH: How are you preparing for Friday?
DN: Essentially, what we have to do now is go through the IG report, which we just received last night. We’re also trying to reach out as quickly as we can to the lower level employees, as the Obama administration is calling them, so that we can try to come up with real pertinent questions that try to get at the heart of the matter, because you know, this is a time for us to get the administration on the record and take responsibility for their actions.
HH: Congressman Nunes, I’ve been through the IG’s report. I wrote a lengthy piece on it for Townhall, as has my colleague, Carol Platt Liebau, used to be a Congressional staffer, managing editor of the Harvard Law Review. Smart people are going through this report. It’s a whitewash. There is, there are more questions raised by this report than answered. Are you satisfied with the work of the IG?
DN: No, I’m not. I mean, if I had to grade it, it would be a D. But look, they came out with it, and that’s what we have to build from, from there. So you know, at this point, I hate to kind of use the old term from Watergate, but what did he know and when did he know it? I mean, that’s really what we have to get to the bottom of here, especially as it relates to the IG.
HH: It turns out that this began, according to the IG’s report, this purge of the Tea Party, in April of 2010. Are you surprised that it has taken three years for this to come to light?
DN: Well, especially in light of the fact, Hugh, that the Ways And Means Committee has been on this since about that time, because we started receiving reports from constituents and other folks around the country that they were being harassed by the IRS. So we actually took it upon ourselves as a committee to ask numerous questions. We sent numerous letters, and essentially, what I feel as of right now, I don’t want to jump to conclusions, but you can quickly draw that they lied to Congress at a minimum, right?
DN: So this is, I mean, that in and of itself is a problem.
HH: There are additional questions raised today. Mitch McConnell raised them with me on the program of Romney donors being audited, and of other extraordinary appearances of politicization at the IRS. Have you heard reports of these, Congressman Nunes?
DN: I actually have received from constituents, people who gave money to the Tea Party, who were audited for the first time in their life. And so we’re trying to draw, we’re trying to bring in as many of my constituents as possible to see if there are any similarities. And you know, obviously, that would be a problem.
HH: Obviously, Ways And Means Staff is large, but you have a lot on your plate. I’m not a big fan of tax reform. I’m a big fan of the Medical Device Tax repeal. But obviously, with a lot on your plate, do you have the attention, the time on the schedule, because I think there ought to be hearings from dawn to dusk. The IRS scares people. They’ve got, a lot of good people work for the IRS, but a very few people can turn it into a monster agency. And I think you guys cannot go wrong spending as much time as necessary on this.
DN: There’s, you’re not going to get disagreement. We actually spent today, we were in meetings for three hours, just the Republican members of the Ways And Means Committee, combing through the information, discussing it, discussing, you know, what issues we think are real, because the last thing that we want to do is go off on some witch hunt, right? We just want to get the facts. I think the facts are on our side in this case.
HH: I spent a lot of Monday and Tuesday last week with your colleagues in the House conference on the Oversight and Governmental Affairs Committee, 12 of them, talking to them each in turn about were they going to be disciplined, not grandstand, ask pointed questions, let the witnesses talk, and build a record. And they did very, very well last week. That was an extraordinary hearing on Benghazi. Do you think the same attitude is going to be apparent at Ways And Means on Friday?
DN: Well, I can say this. Obviously, you know, a little, excluding myself, but the colleagues that are on the Ways And Means Committee are typically what you would call, because it’s the most powerful committee in the House of Representatives, I mean, these are members of Congress who are policy wonks, who get it. We have guys like Paul Ryan, Dave Camp, good members that are well thought of that are ideas guys. And look, the Ways And Means Committee, if you have a problem, this is where the best and brightest of the Republican conference sit.
HH: Are there names yet associated with these low level employees, they’re not low level, by the way. Some of them have been in the IRS for a long period of time.
DN: And that in and of itself is ridiculous, isn’t it?
DN: That somebody would say low level…
DN: …referring to any bureaucrat that is looking over our tax returns? I mean, I just think that’s outrageous.
HH: But we need to know names and dates, and whether depositions were taken, and who was under oath, and when this information was passed on. I mean, it’s really a terrible, you gave it a D. I flunk it. But is staff confident that the IRS IG is coming in ready to talk? Do they feel at all embarrassed by what you’ve heard?
DN: Well, one of the things we discussed today as it relates to getting people on the record and doing depositions, this is something that we are anxious to do. So what we’re viewing Friday as is just trying to get the lay of the land. What is the administration, the IRS officials going to actually say on the record? What can we draw out? At that point, it would be imperative for us to go after and talk to these so-called low level employees, and their managements, which ultimately gets to the White House. So you know, this could involve, did this just stop at Geithner? Was this a Geithner-Axelrod plan? Or did this get all the way into the White House? We don’t know at this point. But the problem is that there is so much out there, that we don’t know.
HH: The idea that this might be a Geithner-Axelrod plan, and by that, the sort of intimation, Henry II style, will no one rid me of this turbulent priest, will no one rid me of these turbulent Tea Parties, that might have just been a hint, a shift of an eyebrow, a change in the tone of voice. That’s going to take a long time to get to. I don’t trust the Department of Justice on this. Do you, Congressman Nunes?
DN: No, I absolutely do not, especially after this wiretapping incident, essentially, of the House of Representative. I don’t think people are focusing on the right thing when they talk about going after the AP reporters. The big problem that I see is that they actually tapped right where I’m sitting right now, the Cloak Room.
HH: Wait a minute, this is news to me.
DN: The Cloak Room in the House of Representatives.
HH: I have no idea what you’re talking about.
DN: So when they went after the AP reporters, right? Went after all of their phone records, they went after the phone records, including right up here in the House Gallery, right up from where I’m sitting right now. So you have a real separation of powers issue that did this really rise to the level that you would have to get phone records that would, that would most likely include members of Congress, because as you know…
DN: …members of Congress talk to the press all the time.
HH: I did not know that, and that is a stunner.
DN: Now that is a separation of powers issue here, Hugh.
DN: And it’s a freedom of press issue. And now you’ve got the IRS going after people. So these things are starting to cascade one upon the other, and you have the White House pretending like they’re in the clouds like it’s not their issue somehow.
HH: Are you going so set aside a lot of time for hearings this summer? Is this a replay of the summer of 1973, Congressman Nunes, when we can turn on and expect a C-SPAN hearing to be on and to want to watch it?
DN: Well, I can assure you that I wasn’t around in 1973, Hugh.
HH: Oh, sure, play that card.
DN: I was born in 1973.
HH: Sure, play that card, why don’t you, Congressman Nunes. Make me feel old. I’m 57. I remember it well. But I was in high school. But I hope you do it again. That’s what we need.
DN: Well, my mother claims that that’s why I went into politics, because the whole time she was pregnant, that’s all she watched.
HH: Oh, that’s just brutal. We’re not ever having you back. Congressman Devin Nunes from California’s 22nd Congressional district, thank you, Congressman. Good luck. Just block off July and August, and bring in the C-SPAN cameras.
End of interview.