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Posted at 12:17 PM ET, 10/23/2012

Darrell Issa can’t keep a secret


Okay, I think it’s time for someone to oversee the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The dead-tree edition of Dana Milbank’s column on how the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee blew the CIA’s cover in Libya had barely yellowed when chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) released sensitive documents that could endanger the lives of helpful Libyans.

As Foreign Policy reported last Friday, in his committee’s probe of the Sept. 11, 2012, Benghazi tragedy, Issa dumped 166 pages of “sensitive but unclassified State Department communications related to Libya” on the committee’s Web site. And he did so without bothering to redact identifying information about the Libyans working with the United States. As a journalist, I’m very much in favor of more information. But I also understand the considerable outrage generated by Issa’s actions.

Before the committee’s gavel felt his firm, cold grip, Issa branded the Obama administration “one of the most corrupt” in history during an appearance on “Fox News Sunday” on Jan. 2, 2012.

They’re going to need more accountants. It’s more of an accounting function than legal function. It’s more about the inspector generals than it is about lawyers in the White House. And the sooner the administration figures out that the enemy is the bureaucracy and the wasteful spending, not the other party, the better off we'll be.

Perhaps enemy is too strong a word. But Issa’s actions over the past two years have shown that the Obama administration has had to worry as much about preparing for his hearings as about how he might compromise ongoing investigations or national security.

A Sunday press release from Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the Oversight Committee’s ranking member, on Issa’s disregard for State Department warnings of unauthorized release of “classified and other sensitive information” makes clear just how worrisome. According to a transcript of a meeting Issa had with State Department officials, the oversight committee chairman was dismissive.

Congress doesn’t recognize and will not recognize “for official use only,” “sensitive.” Those are not classified. We would note it, but we would continue.  Anything below Secret is in fact just a name on a piece of paper.  And I think it is important to understand that. So if you have seen papers that say “for official use only,” “State Department sensitive,” that is crap.

This isn’t Issa’s first time not giving a “crap” about releasing classified or sensitive information. In June, he put into the Congressional Record a May 24 letter to Cummings that included details of secret wiretap applications related to the problematic “Fast and Furious” gun operation that were under court seal. Doing so shielded Issa from criminal prosecution due to the Constitution’s speech and debate clause. But it hasn’t stopped watchdog groups from filing ethics complaints against him.

Last year, Issa went to the mat for Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) after the Department of Homeland Security complained that the chairman of the House Subcommittee on National Security, Homeland Defense and Foreign Operations released information on security lapses at the nation’s airports. As The Post’s Lisa Rein reported then, a letter from Deputy Counsel Joseph B. Maher to Chaffetz admonished, “This document was marked as [Sensitive Security Information] ...and provided clear notice that unauthorized disclosures of the document violated federal law.”

Like I said, I’m in favor of more information, not less. The public has a right to know what the government is doing or not doing on its behalf. But I also think government has a right to set reasonable rules on whether and how certain information related to national security and federal investigations can or should released.

The excessive classification of documents that keeps even mundane information shielded from public view is an obvious abuse. Yet equally troubling is a committee chairman who seems unrestrained by any rules whatsoever in his quest to score political points.  

By  |  12:17 PM ET, 10/23/2012

 
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