The IRS Scandal Has Officially Devolved Into Competitive Politicking

It’s not pretty.

"To get to the hard drive, it is no easy task."
National Journal
Emma Roller
July 23, 2014, 10:53 a.m.

Not much news came out of a House hear­ing Wed­nes­day ex­amin­ing the on­go­ing IRS scan­dal. But it did serve as a good ex­ample of a time-honored sport on Cap­it­ol Hill: com­pet­it­ive politick­ing.

The hear­ing began with Rep. Eli­jah Cum­mings, the Demo­crat­ic rank­ing mem­ber of the House Over­sight Com­mit­tee, spar­ring with Rep. Dar­rell Issa, the com­mit­tee’s chair­man. They took 15 minutes to bick­er over wheth­er Cum­mings had per­son­ally dis­paraged Issa.

“This is un­seemly,” Cum­mings said at the be­gin­ning of Wed­nes­day’s hear­ing. “It’s em­bar­rass­ing. It is not a prop­er way to run an in­vest­ig­a­tion or to spend mil­lions of dol­lars in tax­pay­er funds.”

Issa wasn’t about to take Cum­mings’s com­ments ly­ing down and pro­ceed to his com­mit­tee’s reg­u­lar busi­ness.

“There are a num­ber of words in the gen­tle­man’s state­ments that dis­par­age me, and I ob­ject to his words and de­bate, and ask that he with­draw or modi­fy them,” Issa replied. “The de­cor­um of this com­mit­tee should not lead to per­son­al at­tacks as to the in­tent of in­di­vidu­als on either side.”

But those per­son­al at­tacks, it ap­pears, were not lim­ited to IRS Com­mis­sion­er John Koskin­en, who was at the hear­ing to testi­fy in front of the com­mit­tee. Koskin­en—who has test­i­fied at least three sep­ar­ate times about Lois Lern­er’s lost emails—ap­peared once again on Wed­nes­day to an­swer what he knew about Lern­er’s hard drive and when he knew it. Need­less to say, not much news came out of his fourth ap­pear­ance on the top­ic.

The hear­ing was sig­ni­fic­ant, however, as an ex­ample of com­pet­it­ive politick­ing. With Benghazi taken out of his hands, Issa has turned his pier­cing gaze to the IRS scan­dal, al­leging that the agency un­fairly tar­geted tea-party groups seek­ing non­profit status. As a res­ult, Issa has been com­pet­ing with Rep. Dave Camp, who chairs the House Ways and Means Com­mit­tee, for the glory of be­ing the per­son to re­veal the Truth About the IRS Scan­dal.

As Dana Mil­bank wrote in June:

When word came last week that the IRS had lost the e-mails, Camp’s pan­el said it would hold a hear­ing with Koskin­en (vol­un­tar­ily) ap­pear­ing on Tues­day, June 24. Ten minutes after that an­nounce­ment, Issa pro­claimed that he was is­su­ing a sub­poena to Koskin­en to force his ap­pear­ance the night be­fore Camp’s hear­ing—at 7 p.m. on Monday, June 23. The com­mis­sion­er then dis­covered an­oth­er open­ing in his sched­ule—and Camp leapfrogged Issa, mov­ing his hear­ing up to Fri­day, June 20.

This left Issa in the un­en­vi­able po­s­i­tion of hold­ing a rare night­time hear­ing Monday—and all the ur­gency it con­veys—to ques­tion a wit­ness who already had been thor­oughly and fiercely cross-ex­amined three days earli­er. The halls of the Ray­burn Build­ing were quiet, and only half of Issa’s com­mit­tee mem­bers were in the room as the hear­ing got un­der­way 15 minutes late.

It’s Issa’s last year as chair­man of the House Over­sight Com­mit­tee, and he only has so much time left with the gavel. So it’s un­der­stand­able if he feels bit­ter about Camp steal­ing his thun­der.

On Tues­day, the Ways and Means Com­mit­tee came out with a state­ment that Lern­er’s hard drive may have been “scratched,” like a broken mix CD.

Rep. Mark Mead­ows pounced on that news at Wed­nes­day’s over­sight hear­ing, ask­ing Koskin­en if he was con­cerned that Lern­er’s hard drive may have been manu­ally tampered with.

“If it’s ac­cur­ate, would that con­cern you?” Mead­ows asked Koskin­en be­fore al­most im­me­di­ately cut­ting him off. “Let me tell you why it con­cerns me.” Mead­ows held up a laptop. “This is an HP laptop. To get to the hard drive, it is no easy task. You’ve got mul­tiple screws that have to be taken to get to it. Then once you get to that, you ac­tu­ally have a hard drive in­side that has sev­en more screws that have to be taken off to get to the hard drive in or­der for it to be scratched.”

Full of grav­itas, Mead­ows con­tin­ued: “Well, it con­cerns me, and I’m go­ing to ask my staff to go and see how long it would ac­tu­ally take to get to that hard drive, if in­deed it were scratched.”

Koskin­en re­cently es­tim­ated the cost of his agency’s com­pli­ance with the com­mit­tees’ in­vest­ig­a­tions at $18 mil­lion so far. Now let’s see how much more it’ll take for con­gres­sion­al staffers to un­screw a hard drive.