By George E. Curry
When Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, shares more information with conservative Fox News than with Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking Democrat on the committee, that’s enough to make Cummings go ballistic.
And that’s just what he did when Issa sought to forcibly silence him on March 5. The heated exchange took place shortly after Lois Lerner, a former IRS official, refused to testify before the committee, citing her 5th Amendment protection against self-incrimination.
Issa was on a crusade to prove that the White House was behind the IRS’ decision to target conservative organizations seeking tax exempt status. Cummings contended no proof existed for such a claim.
Here’s a transcript provided by MediaMatters:
CUMMINGS: For the past year, the central Republican accusation in this investigation [microphone cut]
ISSA: We’re adjourned, close it down.
CUMMINGS: — that this was political collusion directed by, or on behalf of, the White House. Before our committee received a single document or interviewed one witness, Chairman Issa went on national television and said, and I quote, “This was the targeting of the President’s political enemies effectively and lies about it during the election year.” End of quote.
ISSA: Ask your question.
CUMMINGS: If you will sit down, and allow me to ask the question, I am a member of the Congress of the United States of America. I am tired of this. We have members over here each who represent between them 700,000 people. You cannot just have a one-sided investigation. There is absolutely something wrong with that. That is absolutely un-American.
ISSA: We had a hearing. Hearing’s adjourned. I gave you an opportunity to ask a question, you had no question.
CUMMINGS: I do have a question.
ISSA: I gave you time for [inaudible], you gave a speech.
CUMMINGS: Chairman, what are you hiding?
ISSA OFF-CAMERA: She’s taking the Fifth, Elijah.
CUMMINGS: He continued this theme on Sunday, when he appeared on Fox News to discuss a Republican staff report, claiming that Miss Lerner was quote, at the center of this effort to, quote, target conservative groups. Although he provided a copy of his report to Fox. He refused my request to provide it to the members of the committee. The facts are, he cannot support these claims [emphasis added]. We have now interviewed 38 employees, who have all told us the same thing. That the White House did not direct this [inaudible] or even know about it at the time it was occurring. And none of the witnesses have provided any political motivation. The Inspector General, Russell George, told us the same thing. He found no evidence of any White House involvement, or political motivation.”
MediaMatters, the media watchdog group, cited e-mails that were even more damaging to Issa’s claim of White House interference.
It observed, “The Fox News segment Rep. Cummings was referring to took place on March 2, where Rep. Issa presented a draft copy of a report written by House Republicans, as well as previously undisclosed emails from Lerner, which Issa claimed revealed ‘evidence’ of political targeting.
“What was omitted during the Fox appearance was that the September 2010 emails reveal Lerner counseling her colleagues to be careful not to focus on political activity while examining 501(c)(4) nonprofit organizations. Early in that email chain, which was obtained by Media Matters, Lerner wrote: “My object is not to look for political activity–more to see whether self-declared c4s are really acting like c4s. Then we’ll move on to c5, c6, c7 – it will fill up the work plan forever!”
“Furthermore, the emails do not appear to be about reviewing organizations’ applications for tax exempt status, which is the process the IRS is accused of inappropriately conducting. Instead, the emails reference the ‘self declarer project,’ which attempts to review groups which self-declare as tax exempt but do not file an actual application, to ensure those groups are still following the rules. (The ‘Self-Declarers Questionnaire’ which tracks these groups is entirely voluntary.)”
Early in the Obama administration, Republican strategists made no secret of their plan to use Congressional hearings to harass Obama. And this was a perfect example of executing that strategy.
According to Talking Points Memo, a reporter asked Issa afterward if he was still “confident” the investigation would “get to the bottom of this.”
Issa replied, “It may well be we have gotten to the bottom of it. At this point, roads lead to Ms. Lerner. The witness who took the Fifth. That becomes – she becomes one of the key characters at this point. Had she been willing to explain those emails which were provided through separate subpoenas, then we could have perhaps brought this to a close. Without that, it may dead end with Ms. Lerner.”
Dead end or not, Issa demonstrated how the Republican majority in the House can twist an institution to satisfy their political needs – even when the discrediting campaign ends up in a dead end.
George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge and George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook.