Things got tense between liberal commentator Juan Williams and conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer on Thursday, after Williams claimed Lois Lerner invoked the Fifth Amendment while testifying on the IRS’ Tea Party targeting to avoid “this political frenzy on Capitol Hill” and suggested Krauthammer was paranoid.
Williams and Krauthammer appeared Thursday on Fox News, along with conservative columnist George Will, to discuss the IRS’ alleged targeting of Tea Party groups. After having receded from the nation’s conscience in recent months, the scandal exploded this week after President Obama declared “not even a smidgen of corruption” existed in the IRS’ treatment of the conservative nonprofits.
Host Chris Wallace asked Will if it’s a “legitimate concern” that one of the lead Justice Department investigators into the scandal is a big-time Obama donor. “Sure,” he responded. “There are six ongoing investigations, not one of them finished yet: Two in the House, two in the Senate, one in Treasury and one in Justice. Subtract the two from the administration because it can’t be trusted to investigate itself — still, not one of them has come to a conclusion.”
Wallace asked Williams whether he was worried that disgraced IRS official Lois Lerner — head of the Washington division accused of orchestrating the Tea Party targeting — is now an “expert” on a government committee looking to tighten rules on tax-exempt groups. “Doesn’t that taint anything the IRS may do with these regulations?” Wallace queried.
“No, she’s an expert,” he responded. “I mean, she is an expert, I don’t think anybody’s gonna argue it. The question is whether or not you think that because she took the Fifth, and didn’t wanna get involved in this political frenzy being generated on Capitol Hill –”
“But wouldn’t it indicate some involvement in something?” an incredulous Wallace replied.
“No,” Williams claimed. “It’s her choice, that’s her constitutional right.”
“I understand that,” the reporter continued, “but if she hasn’t been involved in anything wrong . . . ”
“You know, that’s what she says,” Williams retorted. “I don’t know, we haven’t heard from Ms. Lerner so who can say? But I do think that people do have a right to not be exposed to a browbeating unnecessarily.”
That didn’t sit well with Krauthammer.
“An expert on this, I love that,” he told Williams. “You bring her in as an expert on stuff that she was involved in. I don’t wanna draw other analogies, but Al Capone was an expert on a lot of stuff. I wouldn’t have had him on a commission on law enforcement, although he had a lot of expertise on that. Of course, I’m not comparing the two.”
“Who cares if [Lois Lerner], who is a cog in all this, ends up in jail or not,” Krauthammer later said. “No one does. We wanna know the story, we wanna know who was involved. We wanna know who in Washington, because we know the orders came out of Washington, it wasn’t Cincinnati acting as a rogue agency.”
That prompted this feisty exchange between Williams and Krauthammer:
WILLIAMS: A minute ago you had her as a criminal, as Al Capone!
KRAUTHAMMER: I said I was not making a comparison, I was simply drawing a colorful analogy —
WILLIAMS: [Laughing] Yeah yeah. I dunno why I flashed on that suddenly she had already been convicted and found with the money in her hand.
KRAUTHAMMER: [Turning to Williams] Like Obama, I make judgements in advance.
WILLIAMS: Doctor, I hope it’s not paranoia.
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