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Rep. Issa Demands More Information Over IRS Scandal; CNN's Crossfire Returns September 16th; Weed On the Hill; Did Discovery Channel Jump The Shark?

Aired August 7, 2013 - 16:30   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: In national news, if you thought the IRS targeting scandal, controversy, whatever you want to call it, was forgotten, think again. In an exclusive first on CNN report, House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa is now demanding a copy of all communication between IRS and the Federal Election Commission over the past five years.

CNN chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash is breaking this news and joins us with the details.

Dana, this news was prompted by something you reported earlier this week.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. We reported earlier this week about an e-mail that came from an investigator at the Federal Election Commission, to Lois Lerner of the IRS, asking about a conservative group called the American Future Fund. Now, the vice chairman of the FEC, Don McGahn, was the one who told me about this email and said it races questions about whether there was inappropriate contact between the two agencies about this group.

Now, the House Oversight chairman, Darrell Issa, at this point is expanding his investigation. He announced it today, at least he did so in a letter to the head of the FEC. CNN obtained the letter. What he is asking the FEC is to do is turn over records for more than five years of communications with the IRS. The letter cited CNN reporting that raises, quote, "the prospect of inappropriate coordination between the IRS and the FEC about tax-exempt entities."

Now, among the things Issa is demanding is all communications between the IRS and the FEC dating back to 2008. Now, I should underscore, Jake, that Don (INAUDIBLE), the Republican FEC commissioner I talked to, he underscored that he is not sure that anyone nefarious was going on here, anything sinister. But because this could be inappropriate, it should be investigated. And now it is.

TAPPER: OK. And just to underscore, just to understand. There's a lot of acronyms that people outside of Washington --

BASH: Alphabet soup.

TAPPER: So, the original controversy is whether or not the IRS was unfairly targeting conservative groups, not allowing them to have tax- exempt status because they were conservative. That was the allegation. And this is about whether or not the IRS, the same people that were allegedly unfairly targeting, were also reaching out to the Federal Election Commission?

BASH: Or vice versa, or whether people at the Federal Election Commission were reaching out to the IRS.

The bottom line here is if there's information in the public domain, there's nothing illegal. They could talk to each other about this conservative group or any group out there. If it is private, it could potentially be illegal. So that is basically what they're looking at.

Again, we don't know if there's anything that was sinister that went on here. Democrats are emphasizing that, saying Republicans are just throwing mud against the wall to see what sticks. But the fact is these e-mails that were described to me and that the House Ways And Means ComMittee put out, do show that there was communication that is questionable. That's why now the Republicans are expanding their IRS probe to get another important agency. The Federal Election Commission, of course, basically regulates political speech. So --

TAPPER: And Democrats saying nothing to see, this is a witch hunt. This is a fishing expedition. Darrell Issa hasn't found anything in his first attempt; now he's expanding because he couldn't find anything, and he's just going to keep going?

BASH: That's exactly what they're saying.

TAPPER: OK, Dana Bash, keep us posted. Thank you so much. Great reporting

In other national news, the house where Ariel Castro used to rape and torture three women for a decade is being reduced to rubble. The demolition began around 7:30 this morning, when an aunt of survivor Gina DeJesus with some help, operated the excavator to strike the first blow. Another survivor, Michele Knight, was there to watch the demolition, handing out yellow balloons to represent kidnapped children who have not been found. She offered a message of hope to the parents still looking for their children.


MICHELE KNIGHT, KIDNAPPING SURVIVOR: Nobody was there for me when I was missing. And I want the people out there to know, including the mothers, that they can have strength. They can have hope.


TAPPER: CNN's Martin Savidge was there when the demolition began, and he joins us now from -- Martin - from Cleveland. Martin, is the home there anymore? Is there anything left?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, Jake, it's gone. In fact, they are down to digging up the driveway. And that's how extreme they're going. They want to make sure there's nothing, absolutely nothing left. So that horrible noise you hear behind us is them digging up the driveway.

They have been covering the site now with earth they've been trucking in. The goal here is by the end of the day to have no trace whatsoever of the house that stood there. They knocked it all down, they carted it all away. Laying down the soil. They plan to put down grass seed. And that's the way they'll leave it.

Most communities don't like to have an empty lot. This one they welcome, Jake.

TAPPER: What about the victims? We heard from Michele Knight, obviously. Did you talk to any of the family members of the survivors?

SAVIDGE: Well, you know, I did talk to the aunt, that was the one who mentioned who had the honor to get behind the gear of the big huge excavator that made the first blow to the house. And it made this very satisfying crunch when she made contact with the roofline. She is not a trained professional. They gave her a quick lesson.

She came out of the cab, and I went up to her and I said, well, how was it? And she had this big, beaming smile and she said, it was great! And then she dissolved into tears. It really sort of shows you the mix of emotions on this street. Of course, they're glad to see the house go, but they also know what it represents. It is both triumph and pain on the very same day. They'll just have to now pick up the pieces after this and move on.

TAPPER: All right. Martin Savidge in Cleveland, thank you so much.

It was like a presidential news conference with a comedian asking all the questions. Jay Leno putting President Obama in the guest chair last night. It was a Tonight Show that stressed policies over punch lines.

Plus, a disturbing trend in TV fiction where fact is supposed to be. Why are shows that belong on SyFy airing on Animal Planet and Discovery Channel? Those stories are coming up.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Now time for the Politics Lead. Last night, Mitt Romney made a rare show of face at a fundraiser for the New Hampshire Republican Party. The event took place on the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee, about four miles from where the Romneys have a vacation home.

But while Romney's largely been staying out of the political fray since his defeat almost nine months ago, he did manage to throw some fuel on the fire of the growing war within the Republican Party by warning against the government shutdown over Obamacare. Romney said, "I badly want Obamacare to go away, and stripping it of funds has appeal, but we need to exercise great care about any talk of shutting down government." He said, "I'm afraid in the final analysis, Obamacare would get its funding, our party would suffer in the next elections, and the people of the nation would not be happy. I think there's better ways to remove Obamacare."

For more on this, I want to bring in two co-hosts of CNN's new show, "CROSSFIRE." Former Obama White House official Van Jones and Republican strategist S.E. Cupp.

S.E., this is one of the big fights in the Republican Party right now. You have like, the old guard. I guess Mitt Romney is now part of that, saying this is not practical. I like the goal, but this is not what we should do. And you have the young guard, the Marco Rubios and the Rand Pauls and Ted Cruzes of the world saying, you guys are yesterday's news. We need to stick with principal.

Where are you on this? What do you think is right?

S.E. CUPP, CNN CO-HOST, CROSSFIRE: Yes, you know, I don't know if it's ultimately in the end a good strategy. But I will agree with Ted Cruz on one thing: the 40 repeal votes on the House floor were meaningless and didn't do anything. This is at least an idea that has some practical sort of prescription behind it. You can follow where it's going to go. It may or may not work.

But to Mitt Romney's point there, I think he's a really smart guy, and we should all want to take advice from him on myriad economic issues. I think we should sent him down to Detroit, and he could fix that place.

Where I don't welcome his opinion is on political strategy. I don't think - and I'm not trying to be smug. I don't think he's proven himself to be a particularly adept political strategist. So warning, Mike Lee and Ted Cruz and the Republicans about the optics and the messaging of this strategy, I don't know that he's sort of the best adviser on those issues.

TAPPER: Van, I'm sure you have some thoughts on the showdown within the Republican Party and also with the Obama administration on defunding Obamacare. Republicans in the Senate saying we will shut down the government if it comes down to it.

VAN JONES, CNN CO-HOST, CROSSFIRE: Well, I think first of all, I'm going to buy a bunch of popcorn and love this. Because what you're seeing right now is Republican Party really can't figure out a way to talk well about stuff people really care about. They don't have a job creation strategy, so they're going to talk about this other stuff.

I think a couple things we have to watch for. Watch -- this is the opening of a split in the Republican Party. It's not just young versus old. There are different world views here. You have somebody like a Rand Paul in an open war now with Chris Christie over everything from NSA spying to budget to military. It's going to be a fascinating season going forward, I think, in American politics. But as far as shutting America's government down over their dislike of Obamacare, I think it's going to be the worst thing they could do for themselves, the best thing for Democrats.

TAPPER: S.E., you look like you want to jump in here. CUPP: Look, I mean, Rand Paul and Chris Christie are first and foremost competitors. They're both staking out ground so they don't have to bother doing that in the messaging wars in 2016. That's at least how I see it.

But there's also some personal bad blood there. I think a lot of Republicans were really ticked off when Chris Christie wagged an indignant finger their way and said how dare you question where we're going to spend Sandy aid on Alaska fisheries and run distilleries. I think they - they feel a little chastened by that.

JONES: They might, but I tell you what. Chris Christie didn't do himself any favors by poking the guy over 9/11. Part of what you're seeing now with Chris Christie, I think Chris Christie is right to stick up for his people, saying listen, my folks are drowning, the federal government should send aid. But I think his style of immediately going nuclear -- do you want this guy who goes nuclear for any reason at all to have the nuclear football? I don't think so.

So I think Chris Christie is hurting himself. And the more he hurts Rand Paul on the other side, the better it is for Democrats. I think Chris Christie went a bridge too far on this one. You don't think so?

CUPP: I do. I think Chris Christie is right on a host of issues. On that issue, he was dead wrong. There was a great way to say we need our aid and we need it now. He didn't have to scold the rest of the party who's always been fiscally conservative on these issues. Just ask Mike Finn, who went to bat for offsetting spending after Katrina. And he paid a political price for it, but he still looks back on that moment with pride, as he should.

TAPPER: I want to turn to something that President Obama said on late night - whatever it's called -- "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno."


CUPP: Whatever it's called!

TAPPER: I'm just joking . "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno." He was talking about the National Security Agency's spying program and the leaks that Ed Snowden made. Let's take a listen.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We don't have a domestic spying program. What we do have are some mechanisms where we can track a phone number or an e-mail address that we know is connected to some sort of terrorist threat.


TAPPER: So I thought that was interesting.


CUPP: What? TAPPER: We don't have a domestic spying program.

JONES: I would hate to see - if we don't have one now, I would hate to see us with one if we don't have one now.

TAPPER: We don't have a domestic spying program. First of all, obviously we do have a domestic spying program through the FBI and whatever. I mean -


CUPP: Of course we do.

TAPPER: But beyond that --

JONES. Listen.

TAPPER: What does the president --

JONES: I love this president, everybody knows I love this president, but this is ridiculous. First of all, we do have a domestic spying program, and what we need to be able to do is figure out how to balance these things, not pretend like there's no balancing to be done.

But much more important, he said something else that I thought that was really awful. He said that if somebody like Snowden wanted to be a whistle-blower, they could have gone ahead. Well, hold on a second, sir. That is -- you are right now prosecuting more whistleblowers - not only than any American president, that every American president combined! So, you can't then come out on Leno and yuck it up and say, well, whistleblowers, come on out and we'll treat you right because you haven't been doing that.

So, I think what you're seeing is both parties are starting to split and twist a little bit on this question of national security.

CUPP: Yes, I think where Democrats are in a tough spot, as Van is pointing out, civil liberties of all kinds, whether it's due process, extrajudicial killing, the Espionage Act invocations, the drone program whose mantra was, what drone program, the NSA spying, all of these issues were really in Democrats' wheelhouse, but for four years they went into a self-induced coma and said we're not going to talk about this to get President Obama re-elected. Now some are walk waking up that idea that we're going to lose credibility on these issues if we don't start asking tough questions.

JONES: That is losing credibility. We'll lose civil liberties in this country.

TAPPER: All right, S.E. Cupp, and Van Jones, thank you so much. Looking forward to "CROSSFIRE" debuting on September 16th, airing week nights, 6:30 p.m. again, Monday, September 16th only on CNN. Best of luck to you guys.

Coming up, politicians dish out and take their care of pot shots, but not like this. Could this be a gateway law for the bigger issue?

And later, how "Ebony" magazine is keeping Trayvon Martin's story and memory alive.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Now it's time for "The Buried Lead." That's what we call stories that are not getting the attention they deserve. This one is right here in our backyard. The skunky aroma usually associated with Willie Nelson's tour bus could soon be wafting over the steps of the nation's capitol now that the District of Columbia has made medical marijuana sales legal.

Our Athena Jones is here with that story. Athena, is this the anti- establishment tradition of Washington, D.C. thumbing its nose at Congress? I can't imagine they would approve.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No. You're exactly right. Maybe it is, but Jake, I can tell you this has been a long time coming. D.C. voters voted to make medical pot legal in 1998, but that skunky aroma you're talking about, the one that gives people the munchies, Congress blocked that for more than a decade.

So the big dilemma here is that even though D.C. now says these patients can smoke weed, federal law still says they can't.


JONES (voice-over): Medical marijuana is now for sale, just blocks from the U.S. Capitol. With names like Master Cush, Blue Dream, Jack Herrer, the for-profit capitol care dispensary sells what it calls high-quality medical cannabis.

DAVID GUARD, CAPITAL CITY CARE: It only applies for people that have cancer, AIDS, HIV, spasticity disorders like MS, that sort of thing, and glaucoma.

JONES: It takes a recommendation from a D.C.--based doctor who treats them regularly and they can also buy the pipes, rolling papers and vaporizers they need to use it. The District of Columbia joins 20 states that have made smoking marijuana for medical purposes legal. The problem for them -- it's still illegal under federal law and neither Congress nor the DEA looks forward to changing that any time soon.

A 2009 Justice Department memo said prosecuting medical marijuana users was not a priority, but two years later, another memo stressed that distributing it is illegal, regardless of state law.

CASEY LEE, DISPENSARY WAS RAIDED: They said, well, you are state legal, but still not federally legal.

JONES: Crackdowns on medical marijuana providers in states like Washington and California are proof that selling weed for any reason is risky business. MICHAEL BARNES, DCBA LAW AND POLICY: You can lose all of your assets. It can be subject to seizure by the DEA or other federal entities action, but more importantly you can lose your liberty. You can wind up in federal prison for many years for operating medical marijuana dispensary.

JONES: For now Capital City Care has high hopes that D.C.'s medical marijuana program can change minds where it counts.

(on camera): Will D.C. end up being a model or a proof that this can work?

GUARD: I think so. I really do. I think that we're running here a very tightly run program, one that's serving a community underserved for far too long. And when it's in your backyard -- --


JONES: So we'll see if it changes minds on Capitol Hill. But an administration official who deals with drug policy told me that while the administration is against people smoking marijuana for medicinal purposes, the government does support research into drugs that use the active ingredients in marijuana in a safer way, like in pill form -- Jake.

TAPPER: Interesting story. Athena Jones, thank you so much.

It all begs the question is pot the best medicine in some cases? Dr. Sanjay Gupta has a special "Weed" Sunday night at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

Coming up next, it must be true. I saw it on the Discovery Channel and on the History Network. The networks with an entire show dedicated to busting myths create a big myth of its own action and some of their more gullible viewers swallow it hook, line and sinker.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Now it's time for the Pop Culture Lead. The Discovery Channel has come a long way since the early days when the highlights were like the migration patterns of the whooping crane. Discovery is right in the middle of shark week. It's always a ratings smash, but they kicked things off this year by hoodwinking the viewers. You weren't fooled, were you?


TAPPER (voice-over): You know that the little mermaid is an animation and that "Sharknado" and "Sharktopus." They were fake, but what about this footage of alleged mermaids that recently aired on Animal Planet or this image of a seemingly enormous shark fin on the Discovery Channel? Those were packaged in documentaries on channels known for documentaries or fact. But they were not. They were complete fictions. Nearly 5 million people tuned in to the Discovery Channel, Sunday night to watch "Megalodon, the Monster Shark Lives," the story of a giant extinct shark that may still lurk far beneath the waves. DAVID SHIFFMAN, SHARK BIOLOGIST, UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI: There's a blend of fact and fiction, but the overall narrative is just completely false. There's absolutely no doubt at all in the scientific community that Megalodons have been extinct for a long time now and perpetuating misinformation otherwise really does a disservice to Discovery's reputation and to their viewers.

TAPPER: And it was all nonsense. The Discovery Channel was following in the footsteps of Animal Planet in which May decided to go beyond the extinct and serve up footage of creatures that have never existed?

The network aired this footage in a special called "Mermaids, The New Evidence," evidence, right there, 3.6 million viewers saw it and more than a few believed it, silly viewers. They must have missed this disclaimer at the end. To be fair, the truth behind Megalodon was written on the screen in bright white font three times.

Did you blink in we'll slow it down for you. It says in part, "None of the institutions or agencies that appear in the film are affiliated with it in any way nor have they approved of its contents. Despite -- 87 percent of respondents said that they thought Megalodons might exist according to the Discovery Channel's online poll, a poll as unscientific as that show.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What looks like a big shape, and moves quite past, we don't know exactly what it means.

TAPPER: Discovery Channel is one of the world's top sources for educational programming, which makes this shark week show all the more shocking.

SHIFFMAN: If this show had aired on the Sci-fi Channel, I probably would have loved it, but Slash week has millions each year.

TAPPER: Discovery isn't alone. The History Channel presumably meant for things that are recorded in the historical record has been airing ancient alien footage for five seasons. UFO, is this all just fine? Or is this a dangerous path for make things up with teeny disclosure will become the norm?


TAPPER: The Discovery Channel spokesman told us that, quote, "People watch Discovery to explore the what-ifs in the world. We stand behind all of our content." That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. I will turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM" -- Mr. Blitzer?