The IRS Scandal Has Officially Devolved Into Competitive Politicking

It’s not pretty.

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.”

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.

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.

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