Throwing an Issa Fit
Congressman Darryl Issa silenced Congressman Elijah Cummings, who was using his silence as part of a mainstream-media campaign to silence critics of Lois Lerner's silence regarding the IRS's silencing of conservatives groups trying to silence the IRS.
Did you get all that?
Let me see if I can walk you through the twists and turns of a week's worth of developments in the IRS scandal.
You probably already know that Rep. Issa, the dogged GOP chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, got in a non-shouting match last week with Rep. Cummings. Here's how the Washington Post reported the kerfuffle:
The clash came Wednesday morning as the committee met for a hearing as part of the investigation into the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting controversy. After peppering former IRS official Lois Lerner, who invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, with questions, Issa adjourned the meeting without giving Democrats an opportunity to speak.
Cummings asked that the hearing be continued, but Issa refused and had Cummings’s microphone turned off. Republicans on the panel, led by Issa, then walked out of the room while the enraged Maryland congressman continued to speak.
Other reports were, shall we say, more dramatic -- but we'll get to that momentarily.
Issa sees things a bit differently, as he told Megyn Kelly on FOX News:
“You know if I had to do it over again I probably would have sat there for a very long time, let him say a lot of things and then finished, walked away,” Issa said. “But you know what, we’re all human it was a long day and I didn’t break any rules, I did everything according to the rules, he wasn’t denied any due process."
Issa also criticized Cummings for breaking the “decorum” of the House to launch what he thinks was a pre-planned event.
“The fact is I did things according to the rules, I followed a script and then Mr. Cummings decided to have quite a hissy fit,” he said.
I'm out of order? You're out of order! This whole Congress is out of order!
Whatever the truth is, the incident has given Democrats and the gatekeepers of the mainstream media -- a difference without distinction, I grant you -- an opportunity to wring their hands and pat their brows.
Democrat lawmakers demanded Issa be censured. Ron Fournier called Issa "rude and bullying" and accused conservatives of "applauding Issa for shutting down a Democrat." The New York Times' Jonathan Weisman argued that Issa's actions may have given House Democrats "an opportunity to pivot from Republican accusations and paint him as an overzealous inquisitor," and that the California congressman "has proved to be his own worst enemy." Going well past Orwell and deep into what I at first thought must be satire, the Atlantic's Norman Ornstein claimed that "dark money's backers" are "muzzling the IRS to maintain secrecy and avoid the disclosure."
If the poor widdle IRS and its army of enforcers can't take the heat from some issue-oriented political ads, that's evidence enough of monkey business at the agency. As for Mr. Ornstein, I'll remind him that nobody muzzled Ms. Lerner -- she took the Fifth all by her lonesome.
The silence goes beyond just Lois Lerner however. Tax analyst Christopher Bergin, who says he is "not an IRS basher or hater," nevertheless felt compelled to write of the ongoing scandal that
I don’t know if these apparent political decisions were made by Lerner or others either inside or outside the IRS, because trying to get information out of that agency is like trying to get sweat out of a rock. Over the years, it has fought the silliest things. I’m only half kidding when I say that if you asked the IRS to see the kind of staplers it’s using, it would tell you it doesn’t have staplers.
The IRS isn't being "muzzled" by outside groups; the agency is in its typical fashion stonewalling an investigation into its lopsided targeting of conservative groups during an election year -- and beyond.
The choicest bit of deflection, however, might have come from White House water boy WaPo's Dana Milbank. Milbank admits that last week's hearing was "technically a continuation of last year’s appearance by Lerner," and so Issa was under no obligation to allow Cummings (or anyone else) an opening statement. But then there's this:
Issa told Wallace on Sunday that Lerner’s “attorney indicates now that she will testify” after refusing to do so at a hearing last year. The lawyer denied this, and Lerner did not testify Wednesday — and that would have been the news, if not for Issa’s sound-system antics.
It would have been news? Who decides what is news? Milbank has an op-ed column in one of the nation's most widely-read newspapers. So if a congressional spat is bigger news than the partisan weaponization of a powerful federal agency, then it's because media players like Milbank chose to make it the bigger story.
And on that score, the silence is deafening.