Oh, this is good. So, you know how Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) didn’t bother to show up for a briefing yesterday with White House staff to discuss his subpoena to compel the testimony of the head of its Office of Political Strategy and Outreach (OPSO)? Well, today, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform committee scuttled the fishing expedition moments after he was shamed by ranking member Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) but before an independent witness was set to testify there were no fish.
“We do not simply haul in one of the president’s top advisers at will,” Cummings said in his opening statement, “There must be a valid reason, a predicate, a justification, some evidence that this official engaged in some type of inappropriate activity. The foundation simply does not exist here.” Then, in a ghost-of-Christmas-past moment, Cummings played video from 2011 of Issa promising to seek the committee’s guidance before issuing the kind of subpoena he did for the 99th time last week.
“If we cannot come to an agreement, a vote of the Committee may very well be the most legitimate way to resolve a difference of opinion between us,” Issa said then. How refreshing. Pity he never followed through on it. What made Issa’s subpoena of OPSO chief David Simas so egregious is that not only is it constitutionally questionable to compel a presidential adviser to testify before a congressional committee, but also Issa failed to articulate a single allegation against Simas or OPSO.
Now, here’s where it gets really interesting because it appears to be in keeping with Issa’s penchant for cutting things off before they get uncomfortable for him. Carolyn Lerner heads the Office of Special Counsel, “an independent federal investigative and prosecutorial agency.” One of the things it investigates is violations of the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees particularly executive branch staffers from engaging in partisan political activity. And Lerner was about to testify that there was nothing to see here.
OSC received copies of correspondence between Chairman Issa and the White House concerning the establishment of the Office of Political Strategy and Outreach (OPSO). The White House did not consult with OSC about establishing the OPSO. However, based on our review of the White House correspondence to the Committee, it appears that the White House adhered to OSC guidance in determining the scope of activity for the office. To the extent that OPSO’s activities are limited to those described in the White House correspondence, OPSO appears to be operating in a manner that is consistent with Hatch Act restrictions.
OSC will continue to fulfill the dual advisory and enforcement role assigned to it by Congress under the Hatch Act….If OSC is presented with credible evidence of a violation, OSC would initiate an investigation to determine if any activity exceeds permissible Hatch Act boundaries.
In that hopeful 2011 Issa video, he told Cummings, “I will also undoubtedly talk to other members on your side and say, ‘Am I nuts? Am I wrong?’” Given what we know now, the answer to both questions would most certainly be an emphatic yes. That’s probably why he never asks. Ever.
Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj