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Interview With Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan; NRA Pushing to Recall Lawmaker; Interview with Colorado State Senator John Morse; Packers Fans: Must See TV?

Aired May 17, 2013 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Congressional hearing drinking game.

If you took a Jager shot every time someone said outrageous at today's IRS hearing, well, you would be in for one mother of a hangover. I'm Jake Tapper and this is THE LEAD.

The national lead. Today, IRS stands for, I'm really sorry, the ousted chief apologizing for the agency singling out conservative groups, but our guest, Republican Congressman Paul Ryan, says he didn't get any straight answers.

The politics lead. The NRA no longer just an election-year threat for gun control-supporting politicians. We're breaking the news right now. The NRA is now helping to lead the recall effort to yank at least one elected official out of office in the middle of his term. We will hear from the target himself, the man who led the effort to pass sweeping gun control in his state, the president of the Colorado State Senate.

And the pop lead. They were destined to adorn the wrists and earlobes and necks of the world's most famous people, but now the stars will have to find some different bling after a heist at the Cannes Film Festival.

Good afternoon. I'm Jake Tapper. Welcome to THE LEAD.

We begin with the national lead.

Now the IRS knows what it's like to be on the business end of an audit, a withering appearance today before the House Ways and Means Committee by Steven Miller, who walked the plank this week as soon-to- be former acting director of the IRS. Miller, who now has a resume to update, appeared alongside Treasury Inspector General J. Russell George, who did that study that revealed unfair practices at the IRS and showed that some IRS workers flagged certain right-leaning groups for extra scrutiny, groups with Tea Party and patriot and other red- blooded flag-waving conservative words in their names or in their mission statements.

Inspector General George was asked this point blank.


REP. SANDER LEVIN (D), MICHIGAN: Did you find any evidence of political motivation in the selection of the tax exemption applications?



TAPPER: But most interesting, perhaps, was this from Miller who offered up his contrition on what must have been the longest day in his professional life.


STEVEN MILLER, FORMER IRS COMMISSIONER: I want to apologize on behalf of the Internal Revenue Service for the mistakes that we made and the poor service we provided.

We provided horrible customer service here. I will admit that. We did, horrible customer service. Whether it was politically motivated or not is a very different question.


TAPPER: See, just bad customer service, like a cell phone or cable company, except you are never allowed to switch providers.

In one of the most telling exchanges with Republican Tom Price, Miller indicated that he did not see anything criminal in the IRS targeting individual groups and taxpayers.


REP. TOM PRICE (R), GEORGIA: Do you believe it is illegal for employees of the IRS to create lists to target individual groups and citizens in this country?

MILLER: I think the treasury inspector general indicated that it might not be, but others will be able to tell that.

PRICE: What do you believe?

MILLER: I don't believe it is.


TAPPER: The I.G.'s audit says Miller knew conservative groups were being targeted in March 2012, but a month later he wrote a letter to Republicans saying nothing like that was going on. Miller defended himself, essentially saying the questions were not specific enough.


REP. CHARLES BOUSTANY JR. (R), LOUISIANA: Why did you mislead Congress and the American people on this?

MILLER: Mr. Chairman, I did not mislead Congress nor the American people. I answered the questions as they were asked.


TAPPER: So it was the questions' fault. Keep in mind, it wasn't just the Republicans on the offensive at the hearing. The Democrats were very eager to distance themselves from the controversy by loudly proclaiming just how outraged they are.


REP. XAVIER BECERRA (D), CALIFORNIA: It was a foolish mistake, but the president is even more correct that it was outrageous.

REP. CHARLES RANGEL (D), NEW YORK: This is wrong to abuse the tax system. This screams out for tax reform, does it not?


TAPPER: I think we can all agree that if anybody has the moral authority to rail against tax system abuse, it's congressman Charlie Rangel.

Anyway, Miller swore that flagging those conservative keywords was merely a shortcut because the IRS is overwhelmed between 2010 and 2012, when the number of tax-exempt applications doubled. He also used that reasoning to make, perhaps, the most ill-timed plea for more funding in American history.

One tense exchange was between IRS acting Commissioner Miller and Republican Congressman Paul Ryan. The former Republican vice presidential candidate was frustrated that while Miller was briefed in May of last year on these practices, he left it out in letters to Congress and in testimony just two months later.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN: How can we conclude that you did not mislead this committee?

MILLER: I did not mislead the committee. I stand by my answer then. I stand by my answer now.


TAPPER: And Republican Congressman Paul Ryan joins me now from Capitol Hill.

Congressman, thanks for being here.

Did you get the answers you were looking for at today's hearing?

RYAN: Actually, no. We -- we have many more questions that resulted from today's hearing. The one answer we did get, though, is that the IRS withheld information from Congress.

Jake, you had to know that last year we had these investigations on the Ways and Means Committee. We were receiving all of these reports of this kind of harassment. We questioned the IRS in hearings, in letters, and the IRS withheld all of this information that they were in possession of as to whether this targeting was occurring or not.

We do now know that this targeting did occur, that it was politically biased. It was only of conservative groups. Now we're getting lots of questions with respect to religious groups and other kinds of groups.

TAPPER: I want to play something else that Mr. Miller said at the hearing earlier today about the motives of these IRS employees.

Take a listen.


MILLER: I do not believe partisanship motivated the people engaged in the practices described in the treasury inspector general's report. I've review the treasury inspector general's report and I believe its conclusions are consistent with that.

I think what happened here was that foolish mistakes were made by people trying to be efficient in their workload selection.


TAPPER: So, Congressman, is it possible that this really was, as Mr. Miller described, a poorly thought out bureaucracy reacting to an influx of conservative applications and not nefarious political partisanship?

Is it possible?

RYAN: We don't know the answer to any of these questions. That's the purpose of having these oversight hearings. That's the purpose of conducting oversight.

But I did ask Mr. Miller a specific question, which was when we reviewed the applications that were processed groups with the words progressive or organizing in them were not targeted.

So they specifically targeted groups with conservative wording, with conservative ideas, who were worried about the direction government was going. And they specifically did not target groups that were of the liberal persuasion, groups that had progressive or organizing in their -- in their names.

And so they did single out groups because of their conservative political philosophy. That's just the facts. That's -- that's what we now know, not just from the inspector general's report, but from the acknowledgement by the acting commissioner of the IRS himself.

And so there are so many more questions that we have to ask. It is too early to draw declared conclusions. We've got a lot more to look into and that's why we're doing oversight.

TAPPER: That actually raises a question I wanted to ask you, which is, there is this debate, as you know, going on within Republican -- the Republican Party about whether or not the Republican Party, specifically, the Republican House is, it's over playing its hand, over reaching.

At least one-third of the committees on Capitol Hill are now investigating the Obama administration. Some Republican voices are urging caution that this could end up being like 1998, when Republicans were investigating the Clinton administration and at the end of the election cycle. Republicans actually lost seats in the House because the public was of the belief that Republicans were more concerned with partisanship and investigations than they were with protecting their interests.

Where do you come down in this debate?

RYAN: I don't worry about the politics. I worry about the facts. I worry about the truth. I worry about people losing trust in their own government.

I worry about these allegations and now this -- these established facts, that the Internal Revenue Service was harassing people based on political persuasion, that they were targeting specific groups with -- with specific political persuasions.

That erodes trust in government. I don't want this to be a political endeavor, I want this to be a truth-seeking endeavor so that we can restore trust and confidence in our government.

TAPPER: There are certainly a lot of controversies or scandals brewing right now when it comes to the Obama administration. There's Benghazi, IRS, the DOJ issuing subpoenas of the Associated Press phone records. We have the story yesterday about the -- the terrorists, former terrorists put in the...

RYAN: Right.

TAPPER: ... witness relocation program that the Marshals Service lost track of.

There's a lot for Congress to beat up the administration on.

At the same time, there are pressing needs in the economy. There are pressing needs when it comes to immigration reform. Will it be possible for House Republicans to work with the administration to get things done for this country while all...

RYAN: Yes, I think so...

TAPPER: ... while also maintaining these investigations?

RYAN: Yes.

We can walk and chew gum at the same time. I'm part of a -- of a group of Republicans and Democrats that just reached an agreement of principle last night on immigration reform, bipartisan immigration reform. We're still working on comprehensive tax reform in the Ways and Means Committee, the committee that's doing these IRS hearings, as well. And we're working with senators like Max Baucus, the Democrat chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. So we have to do our job to our constituents to do oversight of the federal government. We're not getting straight answers on Benghazi. Clearly, we're not getting straight answers on the IRS. Clearly, we're worried about intimidation of the press we're supposed to the GO -- the DOJ scandal.

But that doesn't mean we're just going to only do that. We are going to do these other policy initiatives.

We're going to do pro-growth tax reform, pro-growth energy reform, bipartisan immigration reform. You know, we're trying to get a budget agreement to get a down payment on the debt and the deficit.

All of these things are things that we are doing. And this is our job. That's what Congress does. You know, we have a lot of responsibilities and we take all of them very seriously.

TAPPER: All right, Congressman Paul Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin, chair of the Budget Committee, thank you so much for your time.

Have a good weekend.

RYAN: You bet. Thanks. You, too, Jake.

TAPPER: This is only the beginning of congressional scrutiny over the IRS' actions. Next week, the head of the department that approves tax-exempt status, Lois Lerner, will testify before the House oversight committee. It appears she knew about the targeting almost from the beginning in 2010, but who else knew?

Our Erin McPike has been taking a closer look at this -- Erin.

ERIN MCPIKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, Lois Lerner is becoming more of an issue here because we now know that her signature was on at least one document to a Tea Party group asking for more information over a year ago.

So now the question has become, did she not know what she was approving?


MCPIKE (voice-over): After resignations and a contentious hearing on Capitol Hill, there is growing confusion over who knew what and when during the multiple years the IRS was targeting Tea Party groups. Lois Lerner, who heads up the Cincinnati IRS office that oversees tax- exempt organizations, apologized last week after admitting that her division delayed processing applications for hundreds of Tea Party groups.

But now the Richmond Tea Party is charging that Lerner is part of the scheme she is trying to fix.

LAURENCE NORDVIG, RICHMOND TEA PARTY: We found what we think is kind of a smoking gun. MCPIKE: Larry Nordvig runs the Richmond group that first filed for tax-exempt status in December of 2009. The IRS sent Nordvig's group two more requests for information over the next 25 months. Lerner's signature is on one of those letters from March of 2012.

NORDVIG: The 55 questions are the ones that were extremely intrusive. For example, they wanted to know all our donors' names. They wanted to know whether they'd run for political office, whether they were going to run for political office. They wanted pictures of our Web pages with member log-in, personal pages that would have revealed who our membership people were, and other things like that.

So she definitely had to know what level of questioning was going on during this time.

MCPIKE: But acting IRS Commissioner Steve Miller, who resigned this week, defended Lerner this morning.

MILLER: First, you should know while her signature is on there, her signature is on 70,000 applications, so let's not personalize this one to Ms. Lerner.

In 2011, June or July, whatever it was, she handled and fixed the list issue. The cases were still in development. The cases needed to be in development. There were issues. We just did a remarkably bad time of it.

MCPIKE: That kind of explanation isn't good enough for Nordvig.

NORDVIG: I don't think many people believe that this was just a couple of rogue workers in a cubicle. But all that notwithstanding, when you put your signature on a piece of paper, whether it's a stamped, a robo-signature, or your own hand, that is your signature on that paper and you have to own that. So, as far as we're concerned, that is Ms. Lerner's signature on there.

MCPIKE: Nordvig's group was approved last year and he and some Tea Party activists are encouraged by President Obama's actions so far.

REP. DAVE CAMP (R), MICHIGAN: I promise the American people this investigation has just begun. Hearing adjourned.

MCPIKE: But they won't be satisfied until they get all the answers.


MCPIKE: Now, Jake, Larry Nordvig and some of my Republican sources have said to me that they're actually pretty satisfied with how President Obama has responded over the past week, but there are still these burning questions about how high up the food chain this went.

TAPPER: Been a long history in this country of presidents using the IRS for political muscle, so that's why a lot of Americans are so suspicious. Erin McPike, thank you so much.

Coming up next on THE LEAD, he crossed the NRA and pushed for tough new gun laws after Sandy Hook and Aurora, and now he is paying the price. The NRA is taking an unusual step. I will talk to the politician on the receiving end of a campaign not to keep him from getting reelected, but to get him booted from office.

Plus, police say $1 million in jewels were stolen while celebrities partied. How did the thieves pull off this heist? Our pop lead is coming up.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

It's time now for our "Politics Lead". CNN has learned for the first time in almost two decades, the National Rifle Association is attempting to coordinate the recall of a state legislator. He is being punished as it goes for passing gun restriction legislation in his state.

The target is the president of the Colorado state Senate, John Morse.

Now, this mailer that CNN obtained from the NRA Political Victory Fund was sent out to someone who is a, quote, "Second Amendment supporter". It says, "Your state Senator John Morse led the charge to pass extreme and onerous antigun legislation in Denver earlier this year. Responsible gunmen and sportsmen will be forever burdened by his misguided leadership in the Colorado Senate."

It then asks the recipient to go on a Web site to find out how to sign a local petition asking to recall state Senator Morse in a special election. The law they're referring to requires background checks for all gun transfers and a ban on 15-round magazine clips. The NRA lobby's apparent message is vote for gun laws and we will drop cash to get you out of office.

State Senator John Morse joins me now from Denver. We did invite someone from the NRA to come but they declined our invitation.

State Senator Morse, thanks for joining us.

I know that you knew you are being targeted by local gun groups. Did you have any idea you were being targeted by the NRA?

JOHN MORSE (D), COLORADO STATE SENATE PRESIDENT: Well, in the very beginning, no. I mean, it was a grassroots effort for a little while. But when that didn't take at all, it was clear they were getting money from outside and I wasn't the least surprised that the NRA was behind it.

TAPPER: Now, you also are getting money from the outside, right? I mean, this is becoming almost what we saw in the recall, that's the early stages -- I shouldn't overstate it, yes. But it could become what we saw with the recall of -- the attempted recall of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, big interests from out of state coming in to fight a local battle. In this instance, it would Mike Bloomberg and Gabby Giffords and their pro-gun restriction group facing off against the NRA. Is that possible, do you think?

MORSE: I do think that's possible. I mean, certainly, we've thought about this from the very beginning as this is outside groups coming to Colorado and running Colorado's gun laws, but really, nothing could be further from the truth. You have to remember that Colorado is ground zero for some of the worst gun tragedies that have occurred in our nation's history with Columbine and then, again Aurora.

And we also, unfortunately, in Colorado have a history of doing very little about it. I mean, after the Columbine shooting nothing was done. The people had to go to the ballot in 2000 a year later to get gun show background checks into the law which at that point, the Republicans controlled everything and wouldn't put in.

And then, this time, Aurora happened last summer and obviously the Newtown happened in December, and so obviously, we addressed it this session. But this is what we get for that response.

But the reality is, we've got to do a lot for gun safety in this country, and from my perspective, obviously, it starts in Colorado because I'm in Colorado, as well as we're ground zero for these horrific tragedies.

TAPPER: Do you think that the NRA and the other gun groups are going to be able to get the signatures they need? Do you think there will be a recall election of you?

MORSE: Well, as they say, everything is for sale, and for a price, you can get anything. And so again, they have 60 days to collect the signatures and in the first third of that time, they were doing horribly with just a, quote-unquote, "grassroots effort". But once you move in with money, I mean, you can buy what you need to buy.

So, I suspect they'll end with signatures and then the secretary of state will be looking to make sure that they got the quality that they needed to and then I will also have the opportunity to make sure they got the quality of those signatures that they need. And so, we could definitely be on the ballot. I don't think there is any question that could happen.

TAPPER: All right. The president of the Colorado state Senate, John Morse, thanks so much for joining us.

MORSE: You're welcome. Thank you for having me.

TAPPER: Coming up in the "Money Lead" in the high stakes fight for the future, Google just upped the ante. So, what is Apple going to do next to keep up?

Plus, they scream, drink, and harass the people around them. No, we're not talking about Raiders fans. But one NFL team's fans are getting their own reality show. Which ones?

Our "Sports Lead" is next.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Now, it's time for "The Sports Lead".

From Kentucky bourbon to Natty Bohs, the horse racing world moves from Churchill Downs to Pimlico tomorrow for the Preakness Stakes, the second leg of the Triple Crown.

The heavy favorite, Kentucky Derby winner Orb. He will have two things riding on his back, a jockey and history. No horse has won the Triple Crown since affirmed in 1978. Orb was way back in the back in the final turn of the derby but he blew past everyone for a stunning win. If he can do it again tomorrow, he would head to New York with a chance, a chance to become only the 12th horse to ever sweep the Triple Crown.

Sorry all you macho sports fans out there, but a touching moment at one Tampa Bay Rays game proves once and for all that there is crying in baseball. Nine-year-old Alayna Adams got a chance to toss the first pitch at last night's matchup. But check out what happens when the catcher removes his mask to congratulate the young girl.

Adams realizes it's her dad who had been deployed in Afghanistan for two years. Look at that. Oh, my gosh!

If that doesn't make you feel all warm and fuzzy you're officially dead inside.

They're the only NFL fans who can -- I got a little tear (ph) -- the only NFL fans who can call themselves team owners. Their touchdown celebration involves groping players who leap into the stands and they wear cheese as a hat.

The question isn't why are Green Bay Packers fans getting their own TV show? That's not the question. The question is why did it take so long?

TBS is developing a show called Cheeseheads. Of course, it will show case Wisconsin's football faithful living life, quote, "loud, proud, and with lots of beer." No word yet on when the show will debut. We should have course mention TBS is owned by CNN's parent company, Time Warner.

#Tag You're It. Cheeseheads are getting a show. What other diehard fans deserve their own show? And what would you name it? Say, hope and a prayer? A show for New York Knick fans?

It's up at @TheLeadCNN. Use #sportsshow.

Coming up, President Obama had the kind of week that would have left most of us curled up on the couch in the fetal position, eating Haagen-Dazs, binge watching "Gates" (ph) re-runs on Hulu. Just me maybe? No, I don't think so.

Let's check in with our political panel in the green room.

Hilary Rosen, beyond the cleansing week, what does the White House do after a week like this to recover?

HILARY ROSEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You think it might be a good weekend for the president to pick some Republicans that go play golf with. Wouldn't you, to move on?

TAPPER: I would worry about that becoming a crime scene quite honestly.

ROSEN: Instead, the president is going to Morehouse College to give the commencement address. So, the rest of us are just left here while he is doing the people's business to just talk about it.

TAPPER: He will be inspiring people.

We'll stick around. We'll be right back with "The Politics Lead".