(This post has been updated.)
Attorney General Eric Holder’s communications director is being accused of calling the House Oversight Committee Republican staff and asking for help spinning a story. The twist? The GOP staff alleges that Holder’s spokesman thought he was talking to the Democrats.
Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) sent a letter to Holder on Monday about the incident, saying he was “extremely troubled” that the Justice Department may have been trying to coordinate with the minority staff on the release of documents to the committee regarding the Internal Revenue Service targeting certain political groups.
Issa’s letter claims that Brian Fallon asked for a specific committee aide and then told that person that he wanted to get materials to “interested reporters” before sending them to the majority, so that the agency could spin the story first.
Fallon, who previously worked for Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Capitol Hill, told the Loop in an interview that he did call the committee Friday night and asked to speak with a particular person in the chairman’s office. But he declined to comment on Issa’s characterization of the call or whether he thought he was speaking to a member of the minority staff.
“There is nothing inappropriate about department staff having conversations with both the majority and minority staff, as they prepare responses to formal inquires,” Fallon said. “That includes conversations between spokespeople for the department and the committee.”
Fallon said the department intends to formally reply to Issa’s letter.
In the letter, first reported by The Hill, Issa determines that the call is an indication of a “longstanding collaboration between the Obama administration and Ranking Member [Elijah] Cummings’ staff to obfuscate and prejudice the Committee’s work through under the table coordination.”
Becca Watkins, a spokeswoman for the Oversight Committee, emphasized that point in an e-mailed statement, saying Fallon’s alleged conspiring compromised the checks and balances of the federal government.
Issa also claims that upon realizing that he was talking to a Republican staffer, Fallon was “audibly shaken” and attempted to recant his request to leak the documents early.
Update: A Democratic staffer for the Oversight Committee e-mailed Wednesday morning to distance the minority staff from Fallon’s apparent faux pas:
“We never received any call like this, and we never took any action. Apparently, this individual (Fallon) doesn’t know our staff that well because he didn’t know who he was talking to, and he didn’t even know the right phone number,” the Democratic staffer wrote. “Had he called us, we would have told him the same thing we tell every agency: that our policy is to make our own independent decisions based on serving the best interests of the public.”
Here’s the Issa letter: