South Carolina Congressman Trey Gowdy On The IRS Scandal and Immigration Reform
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HH: Special treat for my listeners on Conservative Talk 94.5, but actually across the country, is South Carolina Congressman, Trey Gowdy, who has become a favorite of conservatives across the great United States, and of course in Upstate South Carolina. Congressman Gowdy represents the 4th Congressional district. Welcome back, Congressman, great to have you this segment and next.
TG: Thank you for having me, and thank you for that gracious, largely-undeserved introduction.
HH: Well, let me, I’ll tell you, I want to cover two things with you – the IRS hearings and immigration. Let’s start with the IRS hearings, because I’m going to go over to Hannity in an hour and debate Austin Goolsby on whether or not we learned anything new about what the White House’s involvement is, or political appointees. You’re looking at this thing. What do you think we know about this IRS scandal that we didn’t know a week ago?
TG: Well, we know that it goes to Washington, that D.C.’s fingerprints are on it, so to speak, that it never was two rogue agents in Ohio. And we know that the defense is evolving, and typically when you’re in court, and you’ve changed your defense six different times, it means you don’t have real good facts. Here’s what I would want to ask Mr. Wilkins. Look, the 50% has not changed since we got our numeric code. Political activity, we’ve had, you know, when I was a kid, it was the Moral Majority and John Birch Society. So political activity isn’t new, 50% isn’t new. Why the different level of scrutiny for conservative groups starting in 2010? Well, the code hadn’t changed. Why did the scrutiny change? And why did the scrutiny emanate out of the Chief Counsel’s office in D.C?
HH: Yeah, the great question. There is an argument that Mr. Wilkins was also at the White House. If it’s the same Mr. Wilkins, does that raise your eyebrows, Trey Gowdy?
TG: It does, largely because remember, Mr. Shulman was at the White House more than Jay Carney. He was at the White House more than some of the employees who work at the White House were there. He said he was there for the Easter Egg Roll, but my calendar only has one Easter, I guess two if you’re Greek Orthodox. But he was there 150 times.
HH: So what do we, what is the explanation for that? What is the committee able to garner as to what’s been going on there?
TG: Well, Hugh, as you know, because you’ve watched our hearings, we’re just lucky when witnesses don’t invoke the 5th Amendment privilege against incrimination. So we’ve had a dickens of a time getting information from the IRS, chiefly because they invoke the 5th Amendment, and secondarily, we are dealing with folks who are fearful of retribution when it comes to their jobs. So I know that folks have a tendency to focus on the public hearings, and I would, too, if I were in their shoes. The reality is the bulk of the investigating is done with depositions and personal interviews well away from a TV camera. And those are ongoing. We’ve done eight from the Cincinnati field office, and eight in D.C. And we’re just going to have to build a case like we were back in a courtroom prosecuting crime. Although the witnesses will not be sexy, all won’t be interesting, but what we’re trying, well, at least what I’m trying to show is the mythology that the IRS was targeting progressive groups and conservative groups, I’ve never understood that defense, but it’s also a myth. And secondarily, this notion that if President Obama himself was not involved, that somehow it’s not a scandal, or to use Carney’s word, it’s a phony scandal, if that’s the new standard that as long as the president himself did not directly orchestrate the targeting, that this isn’t worthy of the American people’s time, I just can’t believe that that’s the case.
HH: Let me play for you, Trey Gowdy, speaking of Jay Carney, he went on MSNBC this morning. This is a little bit of an extended clip, but I’m very curious, given that you are a central player in this, how you react to the press secretary’s attempt to blow this off, and Joe Scarborough’s refusal to be blown off on this. Here’s the clip.
JS: You brought up phony scandals. That’s like seriously, that’s like throwing red meat in the middle of dogs. So I’ve got to ask you this question. What phony scandals? Do you think the IRS scandal is a phony scandal?
JC: I think what we’ve seen is inappropriate activity that the President came out and forcefully said he would not tolerate, and that he installed somebody at the IRS to take care of. What we have seen from Republicans is cherry-picked information based on investigations that turns out to be only one side of the story. Again and again and again, if you look up on Capitol Hill, when Chairman Issa and others have selectively released information and refused to release the full facts, the full facts show that the story is quite different. And I think you can, it’s demonstrated by the way that the press has gotten extremely excited about the potential for a scandal, and basically dropped it when the facts have come out. The President will not tolerate poor performance or inappropriate activity at any agency, and when he finds out about it, he acts on it. But he’s focused on the economy, Joe. He’s not focused on pretend scandals.
JC: …that Republicans on Capitol Hill want to make…
JS: So I want to get to the economy, Jay, but…
JC: …want to turn into partisan skirmishes.
JS: All right, yeah, Jay, I want to get to the economy, because obviously, that’s the most important thing. We have to clean up this one thing, though. I mean, you say that there’s cherry-picked information on this IRS, and let’s just take the IRS scandal. The fact is, it’s far different than what you said. At the beginning, you said it was just the Cincinnati office, and then we find out more people in Washington are involved. And then this past week, we found out despite what any of us think of the investigations on Capitol Hill, and I see you smiling, I don’t know that there’s anything to smile about, that it wasn’t a couple of crazy people in Cincinnati, that this information actually went up to the Chief Counsel of the IRS, which was one of two political appointees by the President of the United States in the entire IRS. So…
JC: Joe, I completely agree…
JS: It doesn’t sound phony to me, Jay.
JC: Joe, I greatly appreciate that that is the line that is being pushed by Republicans who want Washington to be focused on scandals instead of the economy.
JS: No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no.
JC: But the facts are…
JS: No, no, no, Jay, that doesn’t work.
JC: Joe, what we’ve said…
JS: Is that the truth or not, Jay? Is that the truth or not? You said, Jay, that this was limited to Cincinnati. That wasn’t true.
JC: No. What I…
JS: I want to talk about the economy, but talk to me. Don’t give me talking points, because that doesn’t work on this show.
JC: Give me a chance, Joe. Joe…
JS: And you’ve been here long enough to know it doesn’t work on this show.
JS: So answer my question, and then let’s talk about the economy.
JC: When you get to the question, I’ll answer it. Here it is.
JS: I gave you the question, and you decided to fight me, Jay. So stop your games with me.
JS: We’ve known each other for too long. I’m not playing your games.
JS: I’m not somebody you talk to, talk down to from your podium. Answer my question, Jay.
JC: Joe, please, let me answer it.
HH: So Trey Gowdy, you know, obviously Joe Scarborough’s getting ticked off here at this cherry-pick line. They’re trying to mock your committee. They’re trying to delegitimize your committee. And it’s not working with Joe Scarborough, but is it working anywhere else?
TG: It may be working with some mainstream media. Jay Carney may be right that some members of the mainstream media have dropped Benghazi and NSA and HHS scandal with Enroll America, and the IRS, but I can tell you this, that my constituents and my colleagues’ constituents have not dropped them. They have not forgotten about it. And let’s go back to this one point. I mean, think about Benghazi. What did Carney say about Benghazi? Well, that happened a long time ago. It’s considerably less than a year. You have four murdered Americans, and not a single person’s been arrested or prosecuted for it.
HH: That’s correct.
TG: So we’re supposed to forget about Benghazi? The IRS, there have been six different iterations of their defense, beginning with Lois Lerner planting the question at an ABA conference, and then morphing into their latest defense, which is well, at least the President himself did not direct the targeting.
TG: So I mean, look, I’ve been advised by my good friend, Tom Cotton, not to say a whole lot about Jay Carney, so I’m going to take his advice. But he, his job is to represent the White House. So when he, on behalf of the White House, says it’s two rogue agents, he furthers and advances a myth that Washington had nothing to do with it, and every time we disprove one of their defenses or one of their mythologies, then their new defense is well, this is old news. When people can’t trust their government, that’s never old news.
HH: No, it’s not.
TG: And whether it’s Benghazi, the IRS, or anything else, and it impacts every other decision we make – immigration, a lot of immigration is contingent upon the people trusting the people they put in positions of power.
HH: Trey, does, not just Jay Carney, but does the President have a credibility gap? I think there is a growing sense of disbelief about everything they say.
TG: It’s either a credibility gap or it is a total disengagement. When you have to say I read about that in the newspaper, whether it’s the IRS targeting or whether it’s something else, when you learn of it by reading the newspaper, and you are the leader of the free world and the commander-in-chief, there’s either a credibility gap or giving him the benefit of the doubt, there’s just a disengagement level that is somewhat alarming.
HH: Now last question on this before we turn to immigration after the break. Can you get Mr. Wilkins under oath for an extended period of time?
TG: Probably so, but I would rather interview everyone else first. That way, we have a much better sense of where he can and cannot go with his answers.
HH: Is there at least a possibility in your mind, Trey Gowdy, that the President knew about the selective targeting of Tea Party and conservative groups?
TG: Oh, sure. There’s a possibility. There’s a possibility that it was discussed with Shulman on one of the 150 times he was at the White House. I’d struggle to think what else they were talking about. They certainly weren’t talking about tax reform or lowering the rate. So what were all those conversations about? Wilkins is there a couple of days. I cannot imagine that someone that was trusted enough to represent for free Jeremiah Wright with his IRS issues and 501c4 and c4 issues, there is the possibility, sure, that he said look, tremendous influx in the applications, we’re going to have a different level of scrutiny. Now was it overt enough? My guess is theyr’e all smarter than that. But sure, it’s possible.
HH: It’s very possible.
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HH: Congressman, since last we talked, your colleague, Mike McCaul, came on the program, chairman of Homeland Security. And when you were here last on Judiciary, you said you know, the border issues, they’re Mike McCaul’s issues, Homeland Security’s got to deal with it. So I had on Lou Barletta, and I’ve had on Mike McCaul, and they were both disastrous conversations, and my audience is pulling out their hair, because they want Republicans to say we’re going to build a long, strong, double-layered fence with an access road, notwithstanding any other law or authority, we’re going to cross tribal lands, it’s going to be at least 700 miles, probably should be 1,000, half the border, and we’re going to appropriate the money and we’re going to get it done. And he wouldn’t say that, and Lou wouldn’t say that, and I’ve talked to some of your colleagues off the record who are involved in this. 1417 is a lousy bill. It’s got to change, or we’re going to kill our coalition. What are you hearing?
TG: You are correct, that is a not a committee of jurisdiction for me, but you are also correct, and in fairness, McCaul’s a friend. He’s a former federal prosecutor.
HH: Good man, great conservative.
TG: I think it’s a combination of things. Number one, building the fence is the execution of current law. And it’s very tough to convince people that you’re going to enforce future laws when you’ve done an abysmal job at enforcing past laws. So the fence is currently the law. It’s supposed to be built. And you know, you have I have talked before about symbolism. I wear a wedding ring. I like crosses. Symbols matter, and when you’re a sovereign nation, symbols matter. But there’s also the substantive effect of even if you can’t secure the entire border, you can certainly direct when and where there are areas of ingress and egress, which makes the job easier for law enforcement. If we’re going to go border security first, which is the House plan, then the border security has to be unassailable. And in the interest of full candor and frankness, currently, that bill is not unassailable.
HH: You see, that’s the deal. An IOU was written to the American people for 700 miles of fence, and I understood at the time that it was double-layered, access road, crossing where it needs to cross. Chairman McCaul said no, look, we’ve already built 650 miles of it, counting the traffic barriers, counting the pedestrian fences. And of course, my head started to spin, as did my audience’s, because they think that’s nonsense and sort of the thing we would expect from apologists for the not fence being built. So in the conference, I know you’ve got Tom Cotton writing his great piece in the Wall Street Journal. In the conference, is the conference aware that the base is going to go ballistic if a border security bill doesn’t come out with specifics, floors, minimums, and appropriated money in it?
TG: Yes, the conference is aware of three distinct facts that are hopelessly interconnected. Number one, border security has to be unassailable, unimpeachable. Secondarily, internal security has to be unassailable, unimpeachable for the visa overstays. And thirdly, you’ve got to turn off the jobs magnet, which means you have to have some version of E-verify. And frankly, if you just have one without the other two, you’re probably not going to be able to win your argument, at least in my district. So border security first, because it resonates most with people, and you’ve got to almost overprove that case because of the things you and I talked about in the first segment, the lack of trust in government. You almost have to overprove the fact that you’re worthy of being trusted on the border or internals before people will trust you on any of the other components of immigration reform.
HH: Now you’re a very fine prosecutor, and I was just a desk job lawyer. I was just a DOJ lawyer. I never had to prosecute anybody or cross-examine, so I’m out of my league talking to you. But I will note that when you say border security, I don’t hear border fence. That’s one of those terms where I need to hear border fence coming out of Republican Congressmen’s mouths, not border security, because border security, John McCain says that means Vader Radar, and to other people, it means towers and drones. No, the fence is a static, immovable object that cannot be turned off, Trey Gowdy. And I just don’t think that we should talk about border security. I think we should talk about the border fence, the actual, honest to God, fourteen foot high, double-layered, access road, border fence. And I just think is 1417 comes out and it doesn’t do that, all hell’s going to break loose.
TG: And I think that border security, and I’m not minimizing the fence. Border security is a combination of fencing, and if there’s technology that can be proven, but here’s what it can’t include. I’ll try to prove it in the negative. It can include triggers, discretion, waivers that are housed with anyone, Republican or Democrat, in the Department of Homeland Security, and I’m not trying to parse words here. The only reason I’m reluctant to say a border from pillar to post is because I have not been there, and I can’t say that the topography, the geography allows it. You’ve got eminent domain issues, obviously, which would…
HH: Can I pause you?
HH: What possible, I’ve heard that a lot, and you and I are lawyers, and eminent domain issue means that you have to issue a notice of condemnation to take the property, and you settle up later. What possible eminent domain issue could there be?
TG: Just the compensation. It’s just the litigation associated with valuing the land.
HH: You just take it, you post your bond, and you argue out the price later. I mean, that’s just not a real objection.
TG: Well, I tell you, in South Carolina, it could take two years just to condemn three feet of land to enlarge a road. So maybe, first of all, I take exception. You probably were a better lawyer. Maybe you can do it in a lot quicker time than we were able to do it in South Carolina.
HH: All right, but I do come back to this, and we’re almost out of time. I think that when it comes down to it, that border security, I don’t want Vader Radar, I don’t want towers. I don’t think people listening to this show want any of that stuff. I don’t want drones. I want bricks and mortar with wire on top, and cars racing along the bottom of it. And then you can do other stuff. And so I just hope the conference doesn’t try and trick us on this, Trey Gowdy, and you’re one of the good guys. You know what I’m talking about. They’re just going to be, they’re just going to be wild with distrust if we get tricked.
TG: Well, they are wild with distrust now, and justifiably so, which I go back and say we need to overprove the security of the border, whether that’s fencing or if someone has a better idea than a fence, which historically, those have worked well, but we have to overprove the front end, the conditions present, like border security, internal and E-verify, because the level of suspicion and distrust is so high, people should not and do not believe that we are going to do what we tell them we’re going to do. So we need to tell them, post-fact, we’ve already done it before the other triggers go into effect.
HH: Trey Gowdy, amen. Thank you for joining me, Congressman, always a pleasure from South Carolina’s 4th Congressional district. Come back early and often.
End of interview.