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Rep. Darrell Issa to investigate staffer over media e-mails leaked to New York Times

By Paul Farhi and Paul Kane
Tuesday, March 1, 2011; A04

Rep. Darrell Issa, the California Republican who has vowed to investigate the Obama administration as head of the House oversight committee, is investigating one of his own staffers, too.

Issa's communications director said Monday that the congressman's office is looking into whether Issa's press spokesman, Kurt Bardella, leaked e-mails - sent to Issa by dozens of journalists - to a New York Times reporter.

Such a leak could potentially jeopardize competitive information among news organizations since, for example, it might reveal stories a reporter is pursuing or cast professional relationships in an unflattering light.

Frederick Hill, communications director for the Issa-chaired Oversight and Government Reform Committee, confirmed an internal investigation into the alleged release of e-mails by Bardella to Mark Leibovich, a New York Times reporter who is writing a book about Washington's political culture.

Leibovich, a former Washington Post staffer, is on leave from the Times while he researches the book, which is scheduled to be published next year. Reached Monday night, Leibovich had no comment.

Politico.com first reported the alleged leak Monday. The Web site's editor, John Harris, first raised concerns about the e-mails Sunday in a letter to Issa.

"The practice of sharing reporter e-mails with another journalist on a clandestine basis would be egregiously unprofessional under any circumstances," Harris wrote, according to Politico. "As the editor-in-chief of Politico, my concern is heightened by information suggesting that Politico journalists may have had their reporting compromised by this activity."

Harris - a former Post writer and editor - said in an interview Monday that his Capitol Hill reporters heard about the possible leak Friday. "It's just intolerable if [information about] our reporting was shared with other journalists from other news organizations," he said. "Our reporting is proprietary and our stories are competitive. Journalists have an expectation that their communication [with sources] is confidential."

But sources familiar with the matter said that the leak involves hundreds of e-mails to Issa's office, many of them mundane and routine inquiries from news organizations seeking information and interviews with the chairman.

Bardella lists Leibovich among his friends on Facebook.

Bardella, 27, was a quoted source in a profile of Issa that Leibovich wrote for the Times last July. In the page-one story, Leibovich referred to Bardella as Issa's "Mini Me." It recounted how Issa had recently purchased a T-shirt for Bardella that read, "It's all about me."

The investigation into one of his own staffers comes at a highly sensitive time for Issa, who, as chairman of the oversight panel, has launched some of the most sensitive probes into the Obama administration and corporate America of any congressional committee.

On Facebook early Monday, Bardella told his friends, "It's the start of what I'm sure will be a memorable week."

After news of the investigation broke Monday, he added: "Thankful for good friends."

kanep@washpost.com

Staff writer Felicia Sonmez contributed to this story.

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