Chairman Issa's First Six Months: Relentlessly Partisan "Oversight"
Before he became chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) promised that if he attained that position, he would not use it as a "political weapon." But the first six months of his tenure have seen him using his power as just that. Rather than performing common-sense oversight in a bipartisan fashion to help government better do its job, Issa has repeatedly accused the Obama administration of "Nixonian" actions and compared administration policies to Iran-Contra. Issa has also pushed conspiratorial theories about the administration's response to the BP oil spill, smeared administration officials, and even refused to allow the committee's Democrats to choose their own witnesses.
Issa: "Oversight Is Not And Should Not Be Used As A Political Weapon Against The Occupant Of The Oval Office." In an op-ed in USA Today, Rep. Issa wrote:
Bottom line: Nothing could be more counterproductive and destructive to this effort than embarking on a series of misguided and politically motivated investigations.
Oversight is not and should not be used as a political weapon against the occupant of the Oval Office. It should not be an instrument of fear or the exclusive domain of the party that controls Congress. Oversight should make the people's government work better for them. Oversight should force the bureaucracy to identify and correct waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement. Oversight should leverage the resources of the 21st century to make the federal bureaucracy transparent, accountable and a model of efficiency and effectiveness. [USA Today, 10/10/10]
Issa: "My Job Is Not To Bring Down The President. My Job Is To Make The President A Success." From a November 3 Politico article: "'I want to prove the pundits wrong. My job is not to bring down the president. My job is to make the president a success,' Issa said on a midnight conference call with reporters, just after House Minority Leader John Boehner's victory speech." [Politico, 11/3/10]
Issa On His Subpoena Power: "I Don't Expect To Use It Often." As reported by the Los Angeles Times:
Republicans said they don't anticipate having to use their subpoena power extensively. Cantor said that the GOP's anticipated "leverage" might make subpoenas unnecessary.
Issa said he would use his subpoena power sparingly.
"I don't expect to use it often," Issa said. "I don't expect to use it lightly." [Los Angeles Times, 10/20/10]
Issa Slammed Draft Executive Order Intended to Increase Contractor Transparency
Draft Executive Order Would Require Government Contractors To Disclose Political Contributions. From Politico: "The White House last week began circulating a draft executive order that would require companies seeking government contracts to disclose contributions - including those that otherwise would have been secret - to groups that air political ads attacking or supporting candidates." [Politico, 4/19/11]
Issa Attacked Draft Order As Potentially Creating "Nixonian-Type Enemies List." From the May 10 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
STEVE DOOCY (host): You feel that this could be a way to punish the enemies of the White House, right?
ISSA: Absolutely, Steve... This could be a Nixonian-type enemies list in the making by executive order, and we can't even get the Office of Management and Budget to come before us before this becomes an executive order...Very clearly, Congress had no intention on having these kinds of disclosures to where you could build an enemies list. ... So we're very aware, this is a Nixon-type, "Who are my friends, who are my enemies" move. [Fox News,Fox & Friends, 5/10/11, via Political Correction]
Non-Partisan Good Government Groups Praised Draft Executive Order
Democracy 21: Draft Order Is An "Appropriate Way" To Help Protect The Public. In written testimony submitted to the Oversight Committee, Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer wrote: "These disclosure provisions are an appropriate way for the Executive Branch to help protect the public against pay-to-play efforts by persons seeking to influence Executive Branch contracting decisions or seeking to obtain earmarks by Members of Congress for government contracts." [Democracy21.org, 5/12/11]
Public Citizen: "Sunlight On...Pay-To-Play Politics Is A Good Thing." Lisa Gilbert, deputy director of Public Citizen's Congress Watch Division, wrote:
Sunlight on corrupt and wasteful pay-to-play politics is a good thing. It is clearly in the interest of taxpayers and voters to know if government contracts are being granted as political favors. The stakes are high when it comes to contracts - the federal government pays out more than $500 billion to contractors every year. [...]
The Obama administration is right to be taking on the issue of transparency in government contracts, and the president needs immediately to sign the executive order." [Citizen.org, 5/11/11]
Center For Media And Democracy Urged Members To Tell Obama To "Follow Through On His Proposal." From the Center for Media and Democracy: "Corporate lobbyists are certainly working hard to keep this transparency proposal from becoming a reality. Please call the White House and tell President Obama at 202-456-1111 to follow through on his proposal." [PRwatch.org, 4/23/11]
Sunlight Foundation Gives "Thumbs Up" To Draft Executive Order. From USA Today:
A watchdog group committed to open government just gave a big thumbs-up to a draft executive order by President Obama that would require campaign finance disclosures from government contractors.
The Sunlight Foundation said the proposal "would radically change the ability to follow the money during the upcoming elections." [USA Today, 4/22/11]
OMB Watch: Draft Executive Order Is "An Important First Step." OMB Watch stated: "In spite of the clamor emanating from conservatives and the business community, the draft E.O. is, according to some advocates (including OMB Watch), an important first step toward curbing the harmful effects of the deluge of corporate money that has begun flowing into our political system since the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2010. The draft E.O. is also a significant down payment on the president's campaign promise to address the growing influence of special interests in Washington." [OMBWatch.org, 5/4/11]
People For The American Way: Issa Is "More Interested In Political Theater Than In Actually Cracking Down On Government Waste." From a statement from People for the American Way President Michael Keegan: "'Rep. Issa has proven once again that he's more interested in political theater than in actually cracking down on government waste,' said Michael Keegan, President of People For the American Way. 'As the cofounder of the House Transparency Caucus, you'd think that Rep. Issa would want to shed light on the politics of granting government contracts, rather than protect the corporations that want to continue operating in the shadows. The Obama Administration is right to take this small step toward making our government cleaner and more transparent. Rep. Issa's attack on the White House's efforts shows how badly misplaced his priorities are.'" [PFAW.org, accessed 5/12/11]
Common Cause: Obama Should "Stand Up For The Public Interest" By Issuing The Executive Order. From a Common Cause press release:
Before the 2012 elections are overrun by corporate and other special interest money, President Obama should stand up for the public interest by forcing federal contractors to disclose their campaign spending, Common Cause said today.
"Congress has failed to pass even modest legislation that would forbid the kind of anonymous political spending we saw in the 2010 midterm elections," said Bob Edgar, president of the non-partisan government watchdog group. "If we can't compel disclosure by all special interest donors, the President should at least force companies that do business with the government - and thus with the taxpayers - to be transparent in their political giving." [CommonCause.org, 5/4/11]
Issa: Homeland Security Department's Freedom of Information Act Process Is "Nixonian." NBC News reported:
On Capitol Hill this morning, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, grilled Department of Homeland Security FOIA professionals, claiming that political appointees obstructed the widely used tool for gaining access to government documents.
The hearing centered on a delayed request filed by the Associated Press, which was investigating how DHS handles FOIA requests. Issa and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) repeatedly accused DHS of forwarding FOIA requests -- by certain media organizations and then minority members of Congress -- to political appointees within the department to review and redact the desired documents.
"This reeks of a Nixonian enemies list," Issa quipped. [NBC News, 3/31/11, emphasis added]
Issa: ATF's Operation Fast And Furious "Looks An Awful Lot Like Iran-Contra." From the Daily Caller:
Rep. Darrell Issa, California Republican and the Chairman of the powerful House Oversight Committee, expressed more confidence in his committee's investigation into President Obama's Department of Justice policies surrounding Project Gunrunner and Operation Fast and Furious, comparing it to the Iran-Contra scandal.
Issa told radio host Rick Amato that it is "not unprecedented" for government agencies, like the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), to refuse to honor Congressional subpoenas.
"This looks an awful lot like Iran Contra," Issa said. "When a government agency makes a mistake they stall, delay and cover up. That's what's happening here." [Daily Caller, 5/17/11]
ATF Special Agent Peter Forcelli Testified To Weak Penalties For Trafficking-Related Crimes Before Judiciary. From a June 15 Oversight Committee hearing:
REP. CAROLYN MALONEY (D-NY): Border state U.S. attorneys have complained that district court judges view these prosecutions as mere paper violations, and have you heard this criticism before?
AGENT FORCELLI: I do, and I agree with it. I think perhaps a mandatory minimum one year sentence might deter an individual from buying a gun. Some people view this as no more consequential than doing 65 in a 55. [Oversight Committee Hearing, 6/15/11, via Political Correction]
Issa Cut Off Maloney's Question, Said Discussion Of Weak Gun Laws Was "Outside The Scope...Of The Hearing." From a June 15 Oversight Committee hearing:
REP. CAROLYN MALONEY (D-NY): And the Justice Department—
ISSA: If the gentlelady will suspend, I want to caution the witnesses that the scope of this -- your testimony here is limited, and it is not about proposed legislation and the like, and under House rules would not fall within the scope of this.
So, anecdotally you can have opinions, but ultimately it would not be considered valid testimony.
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D-MD): A point of order, Mr. Chairman.
ISSA: The gentleman may state his point of order.
CUMMINGS: Yes, let me just be -- Officer Forcelli, in his testimony, has a statement, Mr. Chairman, that I read, where he says that these firearms are ending up on both sides of the border. And I think it's only fair that since it's his statement that she -- and that's basically what she's pretty much going to, but -
ISSA: The gentlelady can ask any question she wants within the scope of the hearing. Under Rule 11, Clause 2K8, it's the discretion of the committee as to the breadth of the testimony.
Any question related to the operation or the failures of Fast and Furious, or factual indications of what occurred in Arizona or throughout the system are within the scope of the hearing. Proposed legislation at a federal level, and whether or not they should be changed are outside the scope of not only this hearing but would not ordinarily fall under the jurisdiction of this committee. [Oversight Committee Hearing, 6/15/11, via Nexis]
Forcelli Went On To Explain That The Laws ATF Relies On Are "Toothless." From a June 15 Oversight Committee hearing:
REP. CAROLYN MALONEY (D-NY): I was trying to figure out why the Justice Department and the IG found that prosecutors often decline these gun cases. I want to know why they're declining them.
And to quote from the testimony, one of you said, because they believe it is difficult to obtain convictions on these violations, and because they believe it is difficult to obtain paperwork from Mexico.
And my question is, are these valid excuses not to bring these cases? I think that's a valid question to get to why we're not getting prosecutions in these cases. Are these valid excuses to say they're paper excuses, not to bring it?
AGENT PETER FORCELLI: I believe not, ma'am. And, again, to go after the midlevel and upper level members of a cartel, you need to start -- unless you have evidence on them immediately -- with the people at the bottom of the food chain.
FORCELLI: When straw buyer cases are dismissed because of excuses made up by the United States Attorney's Office as opposed to when you have factual evidence that shows that person's committed a crime, then you can't prosecute that bottom feeder to move up to the next level.
MALONEY: One of you, in your testimony, called these laws to prosecute "toothless." And could you explain to me why are existing straw purchase laws toothless?
FORCELLI: My opinion, ma'am, is that with these types of cases, for somebody to testify against members of a cartel where the alternative is seeing a probation officer once a month, they're going to opt towards, you know, not cooperating with the law enforcement authorities. [Oversight Committee Hearing, 6/15/11, via Nexis]
Issa Noted Gulf States Are "Right-To-Work," Suggested That Was Why Obama Was "Targeting" Area With Drilling Moratorium. From an Oversight Committee hearing on the Obama administration's response to the BP oil spill:
ISSA: Every state in the Gulf of Mexico, every oil state, is a right to work state.
GOV. HALEY BARBOUR (R-MS): I think all the states in the Gulf of Mexico, I don't know if every oil state is —
ISSA: Yeah yeah yeah. California's an oil state, we're not right to work. But every Gulf oil state is in fact a right to work state.
BARBOUR: That's my belief.
ISSA: Does it surprise you that the policies of this administration seem to be targeting the economic well-being of your area. And I'm not trying to say it's a big plot or anything else, but it does seem like, if 9/11 aircraft fly into the Pentagon, fly into the Twin Towers, the next day we're figuring out how to get airplanes back in the air.
And yet, the economy — the seafood economy, the tourism economy, and the oil economy of your states — when you're suffering, it seems like there's no limit to how long this administration will take to have a moratorium to think about whether or not they can let you do something that's so vital to your economy. [Oversight Committee Hearing, 6/2/11, via Political Correction]
Issa Attacked Commerce Secretary Nominee Bryson — A Retired Energy Company CEO — As A "Green Evangelist"
Issa: Bryson Is A "Green Evangelist" And Obama Is "Out Of Touch" For Nominating Him. From The Hill:
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) blasted President Obama on Tuesday for nominating John Bryson to be the next Commerce secretary, calling the decision "deeply out-of-touch with our current energy challenge."
Issa said Bryson is a "green evangelist" and took aim at the long-time energy company CEO for co-founding the Natural Resources Defense Council, a leading environmental group.
"With gas prices at nearly four dollars a gallon, it's certainly eye-catching that President Obama has nominated a founder of an organization that opposes efforts to increase domestic oil production to serve as the nation's key advocate for our economic interests," Issa said in a statement. "The nomination of John Bryson to lead the Department of Commerce seems deeply out-of-touch with our current energy challenge." [The Hill, 5/31/11]
New York Times: Bryson Was Chairman And CEO Of Edison International. The New York Times reported: "Trained as a lawyer, Bryson helped co-found the Natural Resources Defense Council in 1970 and headed California state commissions governing utilities and water during Gov. Jerry Brown's (D) first administration. Bryson retired as chairman and CEO of Edison International, the parent company of electric utility Southern California Edison, in 2008 after 18 years." [New York Times, 6/1/11]
U.S. Chamber Of Commerce President Reportedly Supports Bryson Nomination. The New York Times reported: "But another familiar opponent of many Obama administration policies, U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue, sounded a more conciliatory note. 'With his extensive knowledge of the private sector and years of experience successfully running a major company, we hope Mr. Bryson will be a strong voice for American business,' he said." [New York Times, 6/1/11]
Bryson Sits On The Boards Of Directors Of Several Major Companies. The New York Times reported: "Bryson, a graduate of Yale Law School, sits on the board of directors of Boeing, Walt Disney Co., Coda Automotive Inc., the California Endowment and the W.M. Keck Foundation. He is chairman of the board of the Public Policy Institute of California and of the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California's Board of Overseers. Bryson is also a senior adviser to asset management firm KKR, a trustee of the California Institute of Technology, co-chairman of the Pacific Council on International Policy and an adviser to Deutsche Bank Americas." [New York Times, 6/1/11]
Cummings: Under Issa's New Policy, Administration Witnesses That Issa Invites Are Counted As Minority Witnesses. During a June 3 Oversight subcommittee hearing, Oversight Committee ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-MD) stated:
CUMMINGS: My staff has informed me that you, Chairman Issa, and other chairmen of this committee have adopted a new policy for minority witnesses. This policy appears to contradict the rules and precedent of our committee. We received word of this policy for the first time from Chairman Issa's staff in an email on May 25, and here is what it said: "If there is an administration witness, then that witness is designated minority witness. It is up to the chairman to accept an additional witness, but that witness must be recognized within the 24 hour period." In other words, if you invite someone from the administration, that witness is somehow designated as our witness although we didn't ask for him. For this hearing, we did not request an administration witness, you did. We requested Dr. Peter Phillips, an expert in economics of the construction industry. But you refused to allow him to testify, the reason your staff gave was Chairman Issa's new policy. They said we could not have our witness because you already invited administration witnesses. [Hearing of the House Oversight Subcommittee on Technology, Information Policy, Intergovernmental Relations and Procurement Reform, 6/3/11, via Political Correction]
Cummings: This "Sets A Dangerous Precedent" Because "Quite Often We Are Opposed" To Administration Policy. From a June 3 Oversight subcommittee hearing:
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D-MD): Well, the only reason I'm asking this is because I think it sets a dangerous precedent, because quite often we are opposed to what the administration is doing. And so for us to be -- for people to be designated our witnesses, it just -- it creates a major problem. And so I just wanted to note that.
And we just wanted to know, on what basis did you deny Ranking Member Connolly's request to invite Dr. Phillips to today's hearing? What was the basis of that?
REP. JAMES LANKFORD (R-OK): The basis on that, that obviously we had seven people already, and two of those being administration officials, that we felt we'd be very supportive and very clear to articulate that position as well. [Hearing of the House Oversight Subcommittee on Technology, Information Policy, Intergovernmental Relations and Procurement Reform, 6/3/11, via Nexis]
Cummings: Policy "Unprecedented" And In Violation Of Committee Rules. From a June 3 Oversight subcommittee hearing:
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D-MD): Just one other thing. Second parliamentary inquiry. Mr. Chairman, this new policy is not only unfair and unprecedented, but it directly contradicts the rules of the House and the rules of our committee. Committee Rule number two provides for, and I quote, "witnesses from the minority may request" -- and it says, "not the majority, the minority. The same is true in the rules of the House.
Mr. Chairman, it's an obvious point, but you can't just invite people to testify and claim that we invited them. Can you show the members any basis in the rules this new misguided policy?
REP. JAMES LANKFORD (R-OK): Why don't we get a chance to go through this in the following day, and I'll follow up and show a previous record of how this committee has been handled in the past. And we'll be able to track that and be able to determine if this is consistent with previous actions of the committee.
CUMMINGS: And just one other thing. I just want to make it clear, because this is very -- this is a very dangerous precedent, and no previous chairman has ever designated who the minority witnesses would be, regardless of whether they're administration officials or anyone else.
Chairman Issa's new policy is an extreme edict, and I'm aware of no other House or Senate committee with a similar policy.
This policy also undermines the integrity of our committee by impairing the ability of minority members to bring balance and additional perspectives to these proceedings, and I ask that you state here to our members that categorically reject this policy immediately. [Hearing of the House Oversight Subcommittee on Technology, Information Policy, Intergovernmental Relations and Procurement Reform, 6/3/11, via Nexis]
Connolly, Cummings Suggested Administration Stop Sending Witnesses To Oversight Hearings Until Policy Is Lifted. During the June 3 Oversight subcommittee hearing, Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) addressed two administration witnesses who said they had been called to testify by the majority:
CONNOLLY: Let me just add again, sadly, you're both being used in violation of House Rule 11, Clause J1, which states explicitly, "the minority members of the committee shall be entitled upon request to the chair by a minority of them before the completion of the hearing to call witnesses selected by them to testify with respect to that measure or matter." To my knowledge, it's never been customary in the House or the Senate for the majority to determine who the minority witnesses are, let alone to determine on their behalf. ... I'm going to advise the administration to deny all requests by the majority to testify before this committee and the full committee until this matter is resolved. ...
I hope you both will take that back to your respective agencies, I am going to be talking to the White House and to the administration government relations officials and I hope the administration will cooperate with us in a policy of noncooperation until this matter is cleared up. But the minority has rights, and if the majority wishes to actually join on this issue and dare to tell us who our witnesses will be, and to designate administration witnesses as our witnesses against our wishes, then we're going to advise that administration to not cooperate with the members of the majority until our rights are recognized and respected. And with that I yield to the ranking minority member of the full committee.
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D-MD): I want to associate—I thank the gentleman for yielding. I want to associate myself with every syllable of the words of Mr. Connolly. [House Oversight subcommittee hearing, 6/3/11, via Political Correction]
Issa: "Chairman Burton Probably Made Mistakes," Just Like Abraham Lincoln. From a January 25 Oversight Committee hearing:
ISSA: First, for our esteemed former chairman [Burton], I will try to deliver some of the words that he may be too shy to deliver. Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas, and my understanding, stopped the post office from delivering during an insurrection. No one looks at Abraham Lincoln and says, my goodness, he was a terrible president. They consider the times. Now Chairman Burton probably made mistakes. I understand that there were incorrect people on a couple of occasions who received subpoenas and it had to be corrected. At the same time, I will not judge the time when I did not serve in Congress or what he faced. [Oversight Committee Hearing, 1/25/11, via Political Correction]
Washington Post: Burton "Infamous" For Pursuing "Conspiracy Theories" As Oversight Chairman, Was "Determined To Prove Vince Foster Was Murdered." From a June 2009 Washington Post report:
Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) is still tilting at windmills, or large fruit as it were. Burton, whose infamous conspiracy theories during the Clinton years earned him the nickname "Watermelon Dan," is at it again. [...]
Burton, for those who don't recall, is the lawmaker who was so determined to prove Vince Foster was murdered that he reenacted the crime he imagined, with a gun in his backyard and a cantaloupe standing in for Foster's head. And this is where we'd like to correct the historical record once and for all.
Many accounts of the incident say Burton used a pumpkin; others say it was a watermelon. But a former aide to the congressman assures the Sleuth that Burton used a cantaloupe to try to disprove Foster's suicide, which makes sense, since the melon is much closer to the size of a human head than either a watermelon or a pumpkin. [Washington Post, 6/19/09, emphasis original]
- Numerous Independent Investigations Found Foster Killed Himself, Despite Right-Wing Conspiracies. From an October 2007 Washington Post article:
An exhaustive three-year investigation by the office of Whitewater independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr has reaffirmed previous findings that White House deputy counsel Vincent W. Foster Jr. committed suicide.
The report concludes that Foster was severely depressed about his work at the White House, took a revolver from a closet in his home, placed it in an oven mitt, and on the afternoon of July 20, 1993, drove to a Virginia park and shot himself. And it contains new forensic details that refute the conspiracy theories that have long surrounded his death - that Foster was a victim of foul play, or that his body was moved to Fort Marcy Park after his death at another location, perhaps the White House. [...]
The new report is the fourth and most definitive investigation into Foster's death. Starr's predecessor, special counsel Robert B. Fiske Jr., concluded in a June 1994 report that a depressed Foster had taken his own life. Bipartisan findings by two congressional panels concluded the same thing. [Washington Post, 10/11/97]
Burton Apologized To GOP After Staffer Selectively Edited Transcripts To Smear The Clintons. From a May 1998 Washington Post article:
The chairman of the House investigation into Clinton-Gore campaign financing abuses apologized to fellow Republicans yesterday for the uproar over his release of transcripts of Webster L. Hubbell's prison conversations and removed his chief investigator under pressure from House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
The move came as Gingrich sought to contain the damage, condemning "the circus" that took place within Indiana Republican Dan Burton's Government Oversight and Reform Committee and scolding Burton at a closed Republican Conference meeting for refusing to say that he was embarrassed by the episode. [...]
Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) accused Gingrich of "trying to evade any responsibility for the Burton tapes travesty.
"A committee staff member should not be made the scapegoat for Chairman Burton's mistakes, missteps, and misdeeds," Gephardt said. "After all, it wasn't a staff member who said he was 'out to get' the president. It wasn't a staff member who made the decision to release the edited tapes. The buck should stop with Chairman Burton, not his fall guy."
In a letter to Republican colleagues, Burton said his staff edited 150 hours of conversations down to "one hour of relevant material."
"Although the vast majority of the material was completely accurate, some mistakes and omissions were made," Burton said. "I take responsibility for those mistakes." [Washington Post, 5/7/98]