In spring 1998, with the Monica Lewinsky melodrama pushing the Clinton White House into the spotlight, the GOP’s chief scandalmonger became the center of his own scorcher after getting caught leaking a deceptively edited transcript of a former administration supporter. Government Oversight Committee Chairman Dan Burton’s credibility was shot, and Speaker Newt Gingrich was furious, calling the investigating panel a “circus.” Burton was dragged before the House GOP Conference and made to apologize, even after firing one of his closest aides.
Today, the man who holds Oversight’s gavel seems hell-bent on repeating Burton’s mistakes. This time, the administration’s embarrassment is HealthCare.gov and the man is Rep. Darrell Issa, who seems determined to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and destroy what little credibility he has left after overpromising and under-delivering on “scandal” after “scandal.”
HealthCare.gov has been an unmitigated disaster, and the Obama administration owns that failure. Politics 101 dictates that if your opponent is destroying himself, you step aside and let him. But defying both good government and smart politics, Issa and his compatriots have fallen back on a familiar troika: unsupported accusations, partisan overreach, and outright distortion.
Since the health care exchanges launched last month, there have been nearly 10 hearings, four subpoenas, dozens of demands for information, and zero smoking guns. This week, Republicans are touting documents they say show that Henry Chao, the website’s chief project manager at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, knew in July that the website could “crash … at takeoff.”
But a CMS spokeswoman tells National Journal that Chao’s email pertained to just “one small piece” of HealthCare.gov and not the website as a whole. “The federal marketplace is comprised of distinct pieces of functionality that, together, make up the full integrated system,” the spokeswoman said.
And last week, Republicans said the website was insecure and could lead to identity theft. “What we know is that the people who knew or should have known, in fact, just simply ignored it,” Issa told Fox News. That claim was based on a private interview in which Issa’s staff sandbagged Chao with a document he had never seen before and led him to believe it was about parts of the website that would launch on Oct. 1. In fact, the memo relating to security risks pertained to two distinct portions of the site that won’t go online until 2014.
Then there’s the “anonymous shopper” provision. For more than a month, Issa claimed that the White House ordered a contractor to disable the function so as to “bur[y] the information about the high cost of Obamacare.” But that claim also fell apart under questioning. Chao testified at a Nov. 13 hearing that the White House had nothing to do with the decision and that CMS made the call based on technical challenges with the contractor.
“It was indeed a kangaroo court, and Issa was the main marsupial,” Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank wrote of the hearing. “Sorry, Mr. Chairman, but the pouch fits.”
The conduct of Republican lawyers for the Oversight Committee in the private interview with Chao underscores just how blatantly biased and substantively shallow Issa’s investigation is. During the session, Chao was confused by the document about security risks and repeatedly asked for time to study it. “I’m not even copied on this, so I don’t, I don’t have any basis for answering your questions,” he protested. At one point, his lawyer interjected, “He is just saying he is uncomfortable speculating about the underlying rationale for a document he hasn’t seen.” Finally, Chao said, “You are putting words in my mouth,” to which his questioner responded: “That’s what I do. I’m a lawyer. It’s a joke.”
It’s familiar territory for Issa, who tends to shoot first and ask questions later. From Benghazi to the IRS to Fast and Furious, almost every investigation he has helmed has blown up in his face.
Democrats can’t help but marvel and feel compelled to offer some advice. “Not that I want to be calling attention to it, but he totally wasted a huge opportunity and got nothing,” a Democratic staffer familiar with the oversight process, granted anonymity to speak candidly, said of Issa’s hearing last week. For one, the staffer noted, Issa failed to mention anything about a report that HealthCare.gov might not be ready by the administration’s Nov. 30 deadline. “From our perspective, they had so much that they could have asked, but nothing new was discovered.”
Perhaps Republicans are finally seeing that. A letter from Issa obtained by National Journal shows that he backed down on a request to have two top Obama aides, Nancy-Ann DeParle and Jeanne Lambrew, testify before his committee. “As an extraordinary accommodation to the Administration,” Issa wrote last Friday, “the committee will delay its proceedings until after November 30, 2013.”
Considering that Issa has rarely hesitated to subpoena officials in the past — even ones who were not responsible for the problems he is investigating — perhaps the chairman is being told to rein it in by those above him.
Burton’s multiyear investigation into potential Democratic campaign finance abuses burned through millions of dollars and hundreds of subpoenas, and when it failed to deliver major dirt, The New York Times editorialized that it was a “travesty” and a “parody of a reputable investigation.”
Issa has never dwelled on any single endeavor long enough to quite reach parody status. Even now, he’s moved on to his next eyebrow-raising accusation, taking to Sean Hannity’s show Tuesday night to allege, based on a New York Post report, that the Bureau of Labor Statistics may have cooked the books on its jobs report ahead of President Obama’s reelection.
Conspiracy theory or investigation? Hard to tell the difference.
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Before we get to the specifics of this exposé about escorts working the Iowa and New Hampshire primary crowds, let’s get three things out of the way: 1.) It’s from Cosmopolitan; 2.) most of the women quoted use fake (if colorful) names; and 3.) again, it’s from Cosmopolitan. That said, here’s what we learned:
- Business was booming: one escort who says she typically gets two inquiries a weekend got 15 requests in the pre-primary weekend.
- Their primary season clientele is a bit older than normal—”40s through mid-60s, compared with mostly twentysomething regulars” and “they’ve clearly done this before.”
- They seemed more nervous than other clients, because “the stakes are higher when you’re working for a possible future president” but “all practiced impeccable manners.”
- One escort “typically enjoy[s] the company of Democrats more, just because I feel like our views line up a lot more.”
No matter where you stand on mandating companies to include a backdoor in encryption technologies, it doesn’t make sense to allow that decision to be made on a state level. “The problem with state-level legislation of this nature is that it manages to be both wildly impractical and entirely unenforceable,” writes Brian Barrett at Wired. There is a solution to this problem. “California Congressman Ted Lieu has introduced the ‘Ensuring National Constitutional Rights for Your Private Telecommunications Act of 2016,’ which we’ll call ENCRYPT. It’s a short, straightforward bill with a simple aim: to preempt states from attempting to implement their own anti-encryption policies at a state level.”
Much has been made of David Brooks’s recent New York Times column, in which confesses to missing already the civility and humanity of Barack Obama, compared to who might take his place. In NewYorker.com, Jeffrey Frank reminds us how critical such attributes are to foreign policy. “It’s hard to imagine Kennedy so casually referring to the leader of Russia as a gangster or a thug. For that matter, it’s hard to imagine any president comparing the Russian leader to Hitler [as] Hillary Clinton did at a private fund-raiser. … Kennedy, who always worried that miscalculation could lead to war, paid close attention to the language of diplomacy.”
The New Covenant. The Third Way. The Democratic Leadership Council style. Call it what you will, but whatever centrist triangulation Bill Clinton embraced in 1992, Hillary Clinton wants no part of it in 2016. Writing for Bloomberg, Sasha Issenberg and Margaret Talev explore how Hillary’s campaign has “diverged pointedly” from what made Bill so successful: “For Hillary to survive, Clintonism had to die.” Bill’s positions in 1992—from capital punishment to free trade—“represented a carefully calibrated diversion from the liberal orthodoxy of the previous decade.” But in New Hampshire, Hillary “worked to juggle nostalgia for past Clinton primary campaigns in the state with the fact that the Bill of 1992 or the Hillary of 2008 would likely be a marginal figure within today’s Democratic politics.”
At first, “it was pleasant” to see Trevor Noah “smiling away and deeply dimpling in the Stewart seat, the seat that had lately grown gray hairs,” writes The Atlantic‘s James Parker in assessing the new host of the once-indispensable Daily Show. But where Jon Stewart was a heavyweight, Noah is “a very able lightweight, [who] needs time too. But he won’t get any. As a culture, we’re not about to nurture this talent, to give it room to grow. Our patience was exhausted long ago, by some other guy. We’re going to pass judgment and move on. There’s a reason Simon Cowell is so rich. Impress us today or get thee hence. So it comes to this: It’s now or never, Trevor.”