Who had the Worst Week in Washington? Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa.


(Sandy Huffaker)

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By Chris Cillizza
Sunday, March 6, 2011

Who watches the watchers?

That existential question is not one that Republican Rep. Darrell Issa (Calif.), the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, had hoped to be asking himself just a few months into his job as the self-declared lead investigator of the Obama administration.

But that was before a young Issa press aide named Kurt Bardella agreed to share private correspondence between himself and reporters covering his boss with New York Times reporter Mark Leibovich, who is writing a book on the culture, such as it is, of Washington.

When the news of Bardella's information-sharing went public, Issa conducted a (very) brief internal investigation before announcing that no sensitive documents related to the committee's work had been compromised and that, by the way, Bardella was fired.

While Issa sought to portray the incident as evidence of his decisiveness and zero-tolerance policy, even with his own staff, it's clear that the congressman either ignored or missed major warning signs when it came to Bardella.

There was the recent New Yorker profile of Issa in which Bardella, 27, described most reporters as "lazy as hell" and displayed supreme confidence about his ability to place stories favorable to his boss in almost any major news media outlet.

Or the bizarre mix-up when the Daily Beast's Howard Kurtz wrote an entire story in which he repeatedly quoted Issa - except it was Bardella he had spoken to on the phone. Yes, you read that right.

It's hard to believe that Issa, who has been around politics for quite some time - he was the lead agitator and sunk $200 million of his own money into the effort to recall then-California Gov. Gray Davis (D) in 2003 - didn't know that Bardella was a bit of a wild card.

The more plausible explanation is that Issa gave the ambitious and aggressive Bardella too long a leash because he knew that the flack could win him the sort of publicity he wanted and needed to emerge as President Obama's lead antagonist.

And Issa was right. Until he wasn't.

Darrell Issa, for having to turn your investigative fervor on your own office, you had the Worst Week in Washington. Congrats, or something.

Have a candidate for the Worst Week in Washington? E-mail chris.cillizza@wpost.com with your nominees.


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