Face the Nation transcripts May 19, 2013: Pfeiffer, Cornyn, Chaffetz & Pruitt

(CBS News) Below is a transcript of "Face the Nation" on May 19, 2013, hosted by CBS News' Bob Schieffer. Guests include: White House Senior Advisor Dan Pfeiffer, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and Associated Press President and CEO Gary Pruitt. Plus, a panel with New York Times' David Sanger, POLITICO's Lois Romano, The Washington Post's Dan Balz and CBS News Political Director John Dickerson.

BOB SCHIEFFER: And, good morning again. Dan Pfeiffer is a senior advisor to President Obama. We welcome you, Sir, to the broadcast. So the White House is involved in all of these controversies all of a sudden, but yesterday, the White House leaks the story to The New York Times, it says the White House chief of staff, Denis McDonough, has told his staff not to spend anymore than ten percent of their time on these issues. Does that mean you don't take any of this seriously?

DAN PFEIFFER (White House Senior Advisor): Oh, no, absolutely not. You know, there are some very serious issues here, in particularly, the IRS where there was inexcusable conduct that needs to be fixed and that's going to happen. The point that-- that our chief of staff is making is that this is the Republican playbook here, we just try-- and they don't have a positive agenda, try to drag Washington into a swamp of partisan fishing expeditions, trumped up hearings and false allegations. We are not going to let that distract us and the President from actually doing the people's work and fighting for the middle class.

BOB SCHIEFFER: You know, I-- I don't want to compare this in anyway to Watergate. I do not think this is Watergate by any stretch. But you weren't born then, I would guess, but I have to tell you that is exactly the approach that the Nixon administration took. They said these are all second-rate things. We don't have time for this. We have to devote our time to the people's business. You are taking exactly the same line that they did.

DAN PFEIFFER: No, I-- I-- as you were correct, I was not born then, but I want to be very clear, the-- what happened at the IRS is-- was inexcusable, and we have to do something about it. And so the President has appointed an acting commissioner, who is a career public servant, who served Presidents of both parties, who is going to do a top-down review. We have got to make sure this never happens again. It was an incredible breach of the public's trust and we have to repair that breach. No question about that.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Well, if it is so important, the President-- as I understand, it says he didn't find out about it until a couple of weeks ago. It-- it is very difficult for me-- Washington-- being Washington-- to understand how the White House wouldn't have known something was up. The Treasury Department was-- was informed. There was an investigation. Capitol Hill committees were informed. There was an investigation. Are you trying to tell me that a wisp of this didn't get over to the White House during an election year that there may be something going on over there at the-- at the IRS we ought to find out about?

DAN PFEIFFER: Yes, I'm telling you that. The first-- that the White House was made aware of it was from the Treasury Department a few weeks ago, not-- not the details of what happened, not the results of the investigation, but that an independent investigation was about to conclude, and here's how we handle this-- and this is how I think every administration tries to handle this. You have a cardinal rule which is that you do nothing to interfere with an independent investigation and you do nothing to offer the appearance of interfering investigation. So we, I think, feel like we handled this the appropriate way.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Well, if the President was so upset about this when he found out about it, why did he wait three days to say anything?

DAN PFEIFFER: Because what we waited for were the facts. We-- up until Wednesday night was the first time we saw an actual report. I recognize that there were leaks from Capitol Hill, parts of the report were leaked out to reporters. We got the report on Wednesday night because it's important to get out there fast, but it's important to get out there right. So once we had the facts, within hours, the President had met with the Treasury Department, spoken to the nation, the acting IRS commissioner had resigned, and-- and he had directed a set of steps to make sure this never happens again.

BOB SCHIEFFER: I'm sure you read The Washington Post this morning--

DAN PFEIFFER: Mm-Hm.

BOB SCHIEFFER: --the way they put it was this way, "This is an example of the great paradox of the Obama presidency. Sometimes he uses the office as aggressively as anyone who has ever held it; other times he seems unacquainted with the work of his own administration." Is the President out of touch?

DAN PFEIFFER: No, I think, the-- what would be an actual real scandal in Washington would be if the President had been involved or interfered in an IRS investigation or what's happening at the Department of Justice. This was handled in the right way. The question, I think, is what happens when the-- when the problems come to light? Do you take decisive action to fix them, and that's what the President is doing.

BOB SCHIEFFER: The President has said before that he wants this to be the most transparent administration in history. Do you think you are fulfilling that-- that goal?

DAN PFEIFFER: Absolutely. This-- we have taken steps including making available to the public for the first time ever, the records of who comes and goes from the White House. We have taken steps to make, open up transparency in data across the government. Is there more work to do? Absolutely. But we-- we have taken steps no other President has taken.

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