Matthews, naturally, still frames the Obama administration’s conduct as a mere strategic mishap, urging an administration he has spent lauding uncritically for the past 5 year that, “When in doubt, get it out.”
>>> start tonight with this. There are two ways to look at this IRS scandal. One is to blame it on the bureaucrats. The other is to blame it on the white house. Someone through mind control perhaps somehow got a line into that Cincinnati office. I’m inclined to buy the first perspective. I see why millions of people might think it’s all the work of Obama. Why? That tired old government game of ducking and covering. First denying. Then a bit of information. Then some more until finally the press pummels you into telling the straight story. Why did the Obama white house not get on the top of this story in the beginning? Why didn’t the chief of staff tell the president what the report was going to say? Get the president in front of a lectern turn and tell us what happened before anyone else did. Why didn’t the president himself lead the public demand for cleaning up that office in Cincinnati? Why didn’t the president’s team react the way a smart political operation should? Seizing the reins of this galloping story. The first rule to follow in these cases, when in doubt, gets it out. Why didn’t the president answer immediately to his clients, the American people? They have a right to know what’s happening in the American government. Why didn’t the president tell them? And why is the person who ran that operation in Cincinnati, the one running this whole thing, why is she taking the Fifth Amendment? Howard fineman is director at the Huffington post. Steve Schmidt is republican strategist, both msnbc political analysts. Steve, I want to start with you. You’re the kind of mind I’ve come to respect. Strategic mind. Howard has one too, of course. Howard is trying to analyze the news. You run campaigns. When in doubt, put it out. The president had nothing to do with screwing around with whom to give tax free status to out there in the Cincinnati office. Why did he act like he had something to do with it? Why didn’t he just come out and say I’m the prosecutor, I want to get to the bottom of this?
>> Well, they’re trying to keep the president distanced from it. Republicans are obviously trying to implicate the president in it. Even though there’s any — there’s a lack of evidence that he is implicated in it. But that whenever something like this happens, when you’re at this stage of it, the administration is trying to gather the facts to communicate to the American people. And they botched it. They’ve handled this about as badly as they possibly could. And whether they’re innocent or guilty, they’re doing everything they can to make themselves look bad in the eyes of the American people with their response and the shifting storyline. So I think the IRS situation as we understand the facts, it’s a very serious situation. When you have an enforcement agency of the U.S. government bridging the first amendment rights of American citizens. And so we have that, of course, now with the justice department and the leak scandals with the press combining together to form a really troubling narrative for the administration. And they just don’t have their footing on it yet. They’re doing a very poor job of responding to it. And they’re making it worse, not better.
>> It’s like they’re on the police interrogation room with simple wits. Slowly — oh, maybe I was there at the time. Maybe I knew something about it. Everybody should pay attention to this. Let’s look at the heart of the current mess facing the administration. It’s called rolling disclosure. Instead of getting ahead of that IRS story, they’ve taken a bumbling and piecemeal approach explaining what they knew and when they knew it. Let’s look at the timeline. May 10th. Not so long ago. IRS official Lois Lerner reveals the agency had inappropriately scrutinized conservative groups. President Obama says he learned about the issue from news reports on that very day. White house press secretary jay carney sidesteps questions about the administration’s prior knowledge telling the press corps I learned about it today. May 13th. Three days later. Carney says the white house was actually first told about the investigation of the matter sometime during the week of April 22nd. What were they told? They were informed the inspector general was finishing a review but that’s all they were informed. Turns out that wasn’t true either. This Monday carney said that white house officials were actually told key details about the IG report. That it focused on the improper targets of 501-c4 organizations that had tea party and patriot in their names. We learned the chief of staff had been briefed by white house counselor a month ago but chose not to tell the president. Other senior staffers were briefed as well. And the timeline gets pushed back even further. Carney now says the white house was actually told of the IG report on April 16th, not April 24th. That brings us to yesterday. It turns out officials at the white house not only knew about the IG findings, they discussed with treasury officials in April when the information must be made public. Carney said I answered the questions that were asked of me. In other words, the questions weren’t precise enough to get the full truth from jay. Howard, you come in the white house. You have been here before. This rolling disclosure sends a big signal they know more than they’ve told us as of now. All these days they’ve been telling us more. There’s more coming. And they’re telling us at their convenience. You got to wonder why they didn’t blow it out day one.
>> That was an interesting chronology, Chris. Even that is — there’s more to that that came out in the house hearings today. Because there were earlier investigations. There was an internal investigation within the IRS that they started themselves long ago last year. And they came sort of to the same conclusion last may just as the inspector general was starting up his own investigation. so the notion that this was not widely known, at least within the IRS and probably within the treasury, that they had a problem and that the conservatives and tea party people were right to be complaining in 2010 and 2011 and 2012. They were right. It’s hard to believe that the echo of that didn’t somehow reach the ears of some people in the white house. Not that they instigated it. But they made a fateful decision to stay away from it and not shut it down. They didn’t shut it down. And their argument is, you don’t mess with the IRS. I talked to a top Obama person today who said, look, I’m not so stupid that I’m going to mess around with the IRS. Maybe that’s true then. But the moment that Lois Lerner said on May 10th that we done wrong, the president shouldn’t have waited another instant. He should have fired everybody. He could have gotten his hands on. He should have been the –
>> I think he should have been the chief prosecutor in this case. Steve Schmitt, would you advise the president if you were chief of staff, Mr. President, you’ve got little time. You better get out in front, or else Mr. Issa is going to get out in front. How about this, Mr. President? You be the good guy. You blow the story.
>> It’s inexplicable why they didn’t do it. There’s has to be an awareness that Barack Obama was elected on the presidency on the premise that he was going to restore faith in politics.
>> The themes of hope and change. This is so dissident. Of course he had to do what Howard said. Clean house and fire everybody who was tangentially involved in this, knew about it. It’s too late now. Now, that’s ultimately going to happen. But I suspect it’s going to happen after there’s been a fair amount of political damage done to the administration.
>> You know, I like a lot of what Obama’s trying to do. I hope he gets a big immigration bill that really works. I think the health care thing has got to work. There’s a lot of things that are important to this country regardless of what happens here on this story. I got to ask the simple question myself all the time when I sit here at this desk. Suppose it was the other way around. Suppose w. was still president and they were picking off every progressive group and screwing them around on the tax policy. And the president was saying, I’ll get to that. We learned a little more today. We heard a little more. They were dribbling out. I’d say, wait a minute. These guys had something to do with it. I would immediately think guys around w. in the white house had something to do with the IRS. Most people think like that.
>> Of course. But let’s do what Steve did which is hold the president to his own standards. Forget about George w. bush. I think Steve’s right about the brand. About the Obama brand. And that’s what’s at risk right here.
>> The transparency.
>> Yes. That’s why he should have been more aggressive a few weeks ago. We all know how this works. I’m sure that there were echoes of this thing rattling around from the IRS like — like noise from a barrel somewhere during the fall campaign. They didn’t want this — somebody didn’t want this coming out. Even maybe the IRS people were smart enough politically to say, let’s not put this out now. I’m not blaming the white house for that. Okay. Things happen during the midst of a campaign in an administration that administrations don’t want to have got out. Okay? That’s happened from the beginning of time. But if you’re president, what you do after you’ve won is you say, I was shocked — I’m shocked.
>> I’m shocked to find that out. I’m going to get rid of –
>> okay. The only thing is, I don’t believe — I’m a little different than you. I don’t see, Steve, how anybody in the white house would have the brass to call up somebody in the IRS in Cincinnati and say we want you to put the fix in.
>> I’m not saying that.
>> If that didn’t happen, I don’t think it did, why doesn’t the president play prosecutor here? My same question. Why doesn’t is president come in like a prosecutor. Start putting people on administrative leave. Start promising to do what you can. Give civil service rights to remove people who made the decisions. Be the leader. I go back to Reagan. The minute he fired those guys for break z their oaths not to go on strike, the minute he did that, they heard that all around the world. God, this guy’s president. This guy’s a leader. What’s wrong with being a leader?
>> George Schultz always said that was the most important foreign policy decision Ronald Reagan ever made. People understood immediately he did what he said he was going to — that he did what he said he was going to do. Look, in this instance, the president had it within his ability to come out and to say, this is what we know. This is what we’re going to find out. This is who we know is involved right now. We’re going to hold them accountable immediately. And we’re going to get to the bottom of this. To make very clear that dissent is as American as apple pie. That his political opponents are not his enemies. And that his political opponents, people who profoundly disagree with him, have a constitutionally protected right to do so. And as commander in chief, as president of the United States, he is first in line to defend it. And that’s what he should have done. And the slow roll of information, the evolving story that comes out every day, it hasn’t impacted his approval numbers yet. But we’re still very, very early in this. This is trending in a bad way. Because a lot of these situations, a lot of these scandals are puffed up. They’re overblown. It’s not a big deal. But the overreach of the justice department with members of the press, the overreach of the IRS here with these other groups, it’s profoundly disturbing.
>> I think your dog thinks you’re overreaching right there, by the way, Steve. That last line. I’m telling you one thing. This could be a time of shining opportunity for this president. The unemployment rate is coming down. The stock market’s going up. The deficit is coming down. This could be a time for him to come into bloom. And to really fight for things important like immigration reform. Instead, we’re playing defense instead of offense. He should have been on offense. It’s so easy; I got to say I wonder. I just wonder. Howard fineman, thank you. Steve Schmidt. Great to have your strategic thinks.
>>> What happened in the Cincinnati IRS? We are going into the bowels of that office and talk about what happened to screw that up. Who directed those workers to target their enemies? What happened? We’ve got really good reporters coming up. also experts who ran that lonely IRS outpost that has given us so much trouble.