Commentary Magazine


Topic: Darrell Issa

Is Eric Holder Trying to Protect the IRS?

A remarkable conversation about the IRS’s illegal targeting of conservative groups took place on Friday in Washington. According to Rep. Darrell Issa’s office, at 5:01 Friday Brian Fallon, a former aide to Chuck Schumer and currently a communications aide to Attorney General Eric Holder, called Issa’s office. By mistake. And it’s quite a mistake.

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A remarkable conversation about the IRS’s illegal targeting of conservative groups took place on Friday in Washington. According to Rep. Darrell Issa’s office, at 5:01 Friday Brian Fallon, a former aide to Chuck Schumer and currently a communications aide to Attorney General Eric Holder, called Issa’s office. By mistake. And it’s quite a mistake.

The purpose of the call, according to a letter Issa wrote to Holder, was to work with the intended recipient of the call to strategically leak damaging information to selected, friendly reporters and to coordinate a damage-control plan. The intended recipient of the call was apparently Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee who has gotten quite visibly nervous over the extent of the investigation into the IRS abuse–despite his attempts to protect the abusers.

Here’s Jonathan Strong at Breitbart:

The aide, Brian Fallon, is a former senior aide to Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and a well-known personality on Capitol Hill. The letter describes Fallon as “audibly shaken” when he realizes his request to leak documents to help get ahead of news stories about them was mistakenly made to the very office he was seeking to undermine. Issa believes the call was intended to be made to Democratic Rep. Elijah Cumming’s staff, the ranking member on the oversight panel, the letter said.

According to the letter, Fallon – who is not named in the letter but confirmed he made the call – asked if the aides could release the IRS scandal documents to “selected reporters” to give Fallon an “opportunity to comment publicly on it.”

Fallon explained to Issa aides that the Justice Department’s Office of Legislative Affairs had not permitted him to release the documents to the public and he wanted to get ahead of the story “before the Majority” – meaning Issa – could share it, according to the letter.

Issa aides – who had placed the call on speakerphone – were “caught off guard by the unusual nature of the call and the odd request” and asked Fallon to “e-mail the material for evaluation.”

“At this point,” Fallon “abruptly placed the call on hold for approximately three minutes.” When Fallon returned to the call, “he was audibly shaken. He immediately stated that there was a ‘change in plans’ and that there would be no effort” by DOJ to release the material early.

In other words, it looks like Holder’s Department of Justice is seeking to help the IRS and the Democrats protecting the IRS. And the only reason the public knows about it is that Holder’s office accidentally called the wrong phone. Oops.

The left’s response to the IRS targeting scandal has morphed over time as more information has come to light. Mostly gone are the truthers who think nothing unethical happened or that this is an aimless witch hunt. It’s now clear to any sentient person that the IRS was indeed engaged in this targeting scheme ahead of a presidential election. Additionally, as I wrote last week, it’s since been revealed that the IRS began destroying evidence once the investigation into the targeting began.

That particular destruction of evidence concerned Lois Lerner, the former official at the center of the scandal, in order to get rid of her email correspondence. The media yawned at the revelation of the destruction of evidence, apparently tiring of this story. So the same day of Fallon’s phone call to Issa’s staff, the IRS admitted it lost the email of “five more workers who figure in the investigation into the alleged targeting of conservative nonprofit groups,” as the Wall Street Journal reported.

The Democratic response to the investigation has thus gone from the eminently silly denial that anything untoward took place to actively trying to thwart the investigation and run interference for the IRS–which, in its targeting scheme, was only following the pronouncements of high-level congressional Democrats, after all. And those Democrats have gotten quite uncomfortable with the investigation. Democratic Sen. Carl Levin has put together a report attacking the inspector general conducting the investigation.

Such interference and/or stonewalling wouldn’t be out of character for this DOJ. As the Washington Examiner reported yesterday, according to the department’s inspector general “Department of Justice senior officials have barred or delayed the inspector general there from gaining access to documents crucial to high-visibility investigations.”

The “nothing to see here” brigade has lost any semblance of credibility. In response, they’d like to make sure there’s actually nothing to see by the time investigators come looking for it.

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What’s To Be Done About Lois Lerner?

The House Ways and Means Committee voted today to urge the Justice Department to consider criminal charges against former Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner. There is good reason to believe Lerner violated the law by directing a discriminatory campaign by the tax agency against conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status. But neither committee chairman Dave Camp nor any other member of the Republican majority in the House is under any illusions about whether Attorney General Eric Holder and his staff will act on their recommendation. Though the Justice Department has been investigating this scandal since it came to light, there is little reason to believe they will act against Lerner or anyone else involved in the mess at the IRS. Democrats believe that the only reason the House GOP caucus is still focusing on Lerner long after most of the news media got bored with the story or took the hint from the White House to move along is that they still harbor the hope that her testimony could implicate the administration in the scandal and prove the illegal behavior was not just the actions of a “rogue” agency office in Cincinnati.

But whether or not they’re right about that, Lerner remains the key figure in a scandal about which we’ve learned little since the initial flurry of coverage in 2013. Since Lerner invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when called before the House Oversight Committee last year (though not before she also claimed to have done no wrong and thereby, at least in theory, waiving her Fifth Amendment rights), the question of her fate has been held hostage to an undignified spat between that committee’s Republican Chair Darrell Issa and ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings. But if Republicans — and anyone else for that matter — want to get to the bottom of this affair, they’re going to have to find a way to make Lerner talk. And though Issa is seemingly loath to give up the fight to indict her for contempt that means offering Lerner immunity.

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The House Ways and Means Committee voted today to urge the Justice Department to consider criminal charges against former Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner. There is good reason to believe Lerner violated the law by directing a discriminatory campaign by the tax agency against conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status. But neither committee chairman Dave Camp nor any other member of the Republican majority in the House is under any illusions about whether Attorney General Eric Holder and his staff will act on their recommendation. Though the Justice Department has been investigating this scandal since it came to light, there is little reason to believe they will act against Lerner or anyone else involved in the mess at the IRS. Democrats believe that the only reason the House GOP caucus is still focusing on Lerner long after most of the news media got bored with the story or took the hint from the White House to move along is that they still harbor the hope that her testimony could implicate the administration in the scandal and prove the illegal behavior was not just the actions of a “rogue” agency office in Cincinnati.

But whether or not they’re right about that, Lerner remains the key figure in a scandal about which we’ve learned little since the initial flurry of coverage in 2013. Since Lerner invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when called before the House Oversight Committee last year (though not before she also claimed to have done no wrong and thereby, at least in theory, waiving her Fifth Amendment rights), the question of her fate has been held hostage to an undignified spat between that committee’s Republican Chair Darrell Issa and ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings. But if Republicans — and anyone else for that matter — want to get to the bottom of this affair, they’re going to have to find a way to make Lerner talk. And though Issa is seemingly loath to give up the fight to indict her for contempt that means offering Lerner immunity.

We don’t know if, as many conservatives seem to take as an article of faith, Lerner and other IRS officials were acting on orders from higher up in the food chain. Given Lerner’s own past tangles with conservatives, there is good reason to believe she was an eager participant and perhaps was responding to the open hints about targeting conservatives and Tea Partiers issued by an administration determined to demonize their opponents. But given that there is little chance that Holder will act decisively to find out the truth about the IRS, the only way Lerner can be persuaded to talk is if Issa and his colleagues find a way to get her back in the witness chair prepared to talk.

As he seems to have done successfully with the fallout from the Benghazi terror attack and the lies told by administration figures about what happened, the president is seeking to run out the clock on the IRS. A year after the initial news that provoked outrage and even an apology of sorts from Obama, the mainstream press has moved on and Democrats are dismissing the issue as a partisan talking point rather than a blatant violation of trust that ought to concern both parties. To some extent this is the fault of Issa and House Republicans who have preferred to engage in verbal fisticuffs with Democrats rather than engaging them in an investigation that the president and his party would like to terminate. But no matter who’s fault this is, unless Republicans act soon to use their leverage with Lerner to get her to tell the truth, it will soon be too late to get to the bottom of a an act of criminal misbehavior that cries out for justice.

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IG Confirms: IRS Didn’t Target Progressives

There was a moment this week when it appeared that the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups was really part of a broader sweep aimed at liberal groups too. That moment turned out to be fleeting. On Monday, acting IRS commissioner Danny Werfel told reporters that groups with certain liberal terms in their names were subjected to increased scrutiny as well. The press bought the story hook, line and sinker.

Werfel’s claims could not withstand scrutiny. As Eliana Johnson pointed out at National Review Online, Werfel’s account was misleading, conflated different categories of nonprofit groups, and contradicted the reality of the approval process and the involvement and oversight of higher-ups in Washington. But now the Treasury Department’s inspector general has cleared up any confusion: no, “progressive” groups were not targeted:

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There was a moment this week when it appeared that the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups was really part of a broader sweep aimed at liberal groups too. That moment turned out to be fleeting. On Monday, acting IRS commissioner Danny Werfel told reporters that groups with certain liberal terms in their names were subjected to increased scrutiny as well. The press bought the story hook, line and sinker.

Werfel’s claims could not withstand scrutiny. As Eliana Johnson pointed out at National Review Online, Werfel’s account was misleading, conflated different categories of nonprofit groups, and contradicted the reality of the approval process and the involvement and oversight of higher-ups in Washington. But now the Treasury Department’s inspector general has cleared up any confusion: no, “progressive” groups were not targeted:

“Our audit did not find evidence that the IRS used the ‘progressives’ identifier as selection criteria for potential political cases between May 2010 and May 2012,” George wrote in the letter obtained by The Hill.

The inspector general also stressed that 100 percent of the groups with “Tea Party,” “patriots” and “9/12” in their name were flagged for extra attention.

“While we have multiple sources of information corroborating the use of Tea Party and other related criteria we described in our report, including employee interviews, e-mails and other documents, we found no indication in any of these other materials that ‘progressives’ was a term used to refer cases for scrutiny for political campaign intervention,” George wrote to Levin, the top Democrat on the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee.

Levin was flummoxed, but he wasn’t the only Democrat to try unsuccessfully to undermine conservatives’ claims with regard to the IRS. Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, attempted earlier this month to simply will the story away. “Based upon everything I’ve seen the case is solved,” Cummings said. “And if it were me, I would wrap this case up and move on, to be frank with you.” Not only was the case clearly not “solved,” but another of the claims has since been debunked.

Cummings tried to use the testimony of one IRS staffer to imply that one group within the IRS was reviewing the Tea Party-related cases. But according to a lawsuit challenging the IRS’s abuse of power, twelve different IRS groups had participated in the targeting, as the Daily Caller notes:

Group 7821, Group 7822, Group 7823, Group 7824, Group 7827, Group 7828, Group 7829, Group 7830, Group 7838, EOG-7887, and EOG-7888, and the Tax Exempt and Government Entities Division in Washington, D.C. all targeted conservative groups between 2010 and 2012, according to documentation compiled by the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which has filed a class-action suit against the IRS.

Cummings has been a man on a mission throughout this scandal. Though the IRS doesn’t have many defenders, and its actions in this case are indefensible anyway, Cummings has tried his best to run the investigation into the IRS off the rails. It’s unclear exactly why Cummings fears where the investigation will lead, but that actually underlines why Cummings is wrong in the first place to claim the investigation has run its course. We still don’t know which officials in Washington directed the targeting, or how exactly the campaign came together.

Additionally, the White House misled reporters on this time and again, revising its story each time it was contradicted by the record. The Obama administration’s behavior is not one of a disinterested party who was kept in the dark and now shares the public’s outrage at the IRS’s actions. The administration behaves as if it has something to hide, and has already been shown to present false statements about who in the White House knew about the targeting and when. That doesn’t mean the president himself was giving orders, but neither can the Oversight Committee ignore the wealth of unanswered questions that remain about the case.

Cummings has called the investigation a witch hunt and a conspiracy theory, but he seems to be the one who has the most doubts as to how high this case goes. If the administration’s congressional allies really believed that no one beyond some low-level staffers could be implicated by the investigation, they’d welcome it. After all, it would exonerate the administration and the directors in Washington.

Cummings’s decision to release a full transcript of one of the Oversight Committee’s interviews with an IRS staffer, over the objection of committee head Darrell Issa, is also telling. Issa wants to prevent the interview subjects from being able to coordinate their stories, and thus not release the bulk of the questions and answers from the interviews. Cummings was only too happy to take a step that helps the perpetrators of this corrupt scheme at the expense of the victims. For all the left’s criticism of Issa’s investigative zeal, Cummings seems to have the most profound doubts about his own party’s innocence.

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Liberal Overreach: The IRS and Race

The theme of the last couple of weeks for liberals has been “overreach.” That’s the word they’ve been using incessantly to try to depict all efforts to hold the administration accountable for a trio of scandals that have undermined the credibility of the Obama presidency. But while the lingering questions about the lies told about Benghazi as well as those about the Justice Department’s spying on journalists are troubling, the need to push back on the investigation into the IRS scandal is a particular priority for the president’s cheering section. Thus, instead of seeking to work harder to get to the bottom of the troubling targeting of conservatives by the nation’s tax agency, many Democrats and others on the left have concentrated on trying to delegitimize those asking the questions.

The principle target of those attacks has been House Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa, whose reputation for partisanship and combative personality have made him an easy mark for those trying to paint the focus on scandals as merely a Republican tactic, rather than a national imperative to get the truth. Issa’s claim that White House spokesman Jay Carney was a “paid liar” added to this impression even if it is hard to argue with the truth of the accusation. That incident led to a vicious and personal counter-attack on Issa by Obama strategist David Plouffe.

But now it appears that while Democrats may have gained some initial traction with their “overreach” talking point, it’s starting to look as if it is those on the left are the ones who are doing the real overreaching in this controversy. The latest and most egregious instance of this liberal overreach comes from MSNBC host Martin Bashir, who argued on the network yesterday that the anger about the IRS’s political targeting as well as its outrageous misuse of public funds is nothing more than a racist attack on President Obama.

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The theme of the last couple of weeks for liberals has been “overreach.” That’s the word they’ve been using incessantly to try to depict all efforts to hold the administration accountable for a trio of scandals that have undermined the credibility of the Obama presidency. But while the lingering questions about the lies told about Benghazi as well as those about the Justice Department’s spying on journalists are troubling, the need to push back on the investigation into the IRS scandal is a particular priority for the president’s cheering section. Thus, instead of seeking to work harder to get to the bottom of the troubling targeting of conservatives by the nation’s tax agency, many Democrats and others on the left have concentrated on trying to delegitimize those asking the questions.

The principle target of those attacks has been House Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa, whose reputation for partisanship and combative personality have made him an easy mark for those trying to paint the focus on scandals as merely a Republican tactic, rather than a national imperative to get the truth. Issa’s claim that White House spokesman Jay Carney was a “paid liar” added to this impression even if it is hard to argue with the truth of the accusation. That incident led to a vicious and personal counter-attack on Issa by Obama strategist David Plouffe.

But now it appears that while Democrats may have gained some initial traction with their “overreach” talking point, it’s starting to look as if it is those on the left are the ones who are doing the real overreaching in this controversy. The latest and most egregious instance of this liberal overreach comes from MSNBC host Martin Bashir, who argued on the network yesterday that the anger about the IRS’s political targeting as well as its outrageous misuse of public funds is nothing more than a racist attack on President Obama.

Here’s what Bashir said:

MARTIN BASHIR: The IRS is being used in exactly the same way as they tried to used the president’s birth certificate. You see, for Republicans like Darrell Issa, who knows something about arson, the IRS now stands for something inflammatory. Those three letters are now on fire with political corruption and malfeasance, burning hot. Just like that suspicious fire that engulfed Mr. Issa’s warehouse back in 1982. 

And, despite the complete lack of any evidence linking the president to the targeting of tea party groups, Republicans are using it as their latest weapon in the war against the black man in the White House. …

This strategy is nothing new. And it was explained way back in 1981, by Lee Atwater, who was Bush 41′s chief strategist. In a tape recording, Mr. Atwater revealed how Republicans evolved their language to achieve the same purpose. 

He said: ‘You start out in 1954, by saying ‘n*****, n*****, n*****. By 1968, you can’t say n*****, that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like forced bussing, states rights, and all that stuff and you’re getting so abstract. Now you’re talking about cutting taxes. We want to cut this is much more abstract than even the bussing thing and a hell of a lot more abstract than n*****, n*****.’

So this afternoon, we welcomed the latest phrase in the lexicon of Republican attacks on this president: the IRS. Three letters that sound so innocent but we know what you mean.

It would be easy to dismiss Bashir as nothing more than a crackpot with a TV show, but this “dog whistle” argument is not an isolated instance. The head of the Louisiana Democratic Party made the same point when she claimed the only reason why so many Americans oppose ObamaCare is the color of the president’s skin. In other words, for the left, conservatives have no other motivation or ideology but hatred of blacks.

This is insulting and stupid. But it is also contradicted by the anger against the IRS that Rep. Elijah Cummings, the black Democrat who is the ranking member of the Oversight Committee, has expressed about the abuses of the IRS.

All Americans, no matter their race, have a vested interest in protecting their constitutional rights against a government that continues to seek more power at the expense of the individual. That’s why the majority of Americans continue to oppose ObamaCare. And it’s also why they think the abuses at the IRS must be thoroughly investigated and all those involved held accountable. Republicans like Issa must be careful to let the story tell itself as the investigation proceeds. But it is neither racist nor unreasonable for them to be asking whether those who did these acts were in any way inspired by the inflammatory rhetoric used by both the president and much of the liberal media.

It is not surprising that many on the left would prefer to engage in ad hominem attacks and reckless use of racism accusations rather than face the facts about a government that can’t be trusted. Screaming the “n” word is an escape from the reality of a second Obama administration mired in scandal. But doing this does neither the country nor African Americans any favors.

By seeking to cast all of the president’s critics as bigots who use the “n” word, leftists like Bashir are acting as racial hucksters, exploiting fear and seeking to arouse hatred against anyone who disagrees with them. That’s what the left has been trying to do to the Tea Party movement since it began, and despite their lack of proof for their charges of racism, they have persisted in these smears.

It’s easier to live in a fantasy world where your critics are cartoon bigots than to defend the administration’s conduct. Instead of falsely crying racism, liberals should be listening to their fellow citizens who oppose Obama’s policies and engaging them in thoughtful debate about constitutional principles and policy. But if they do that, they’d have to acknowledge the legitimacy of their opponents, and that is something they’d rather not do.

The only overreaching going on about the IRS is a liberal campaign to silence administration critics with false charges of racism. As enjoyable as this escape from reality might be for the left, they have to know that the American people aren’t buying it.

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Sharpton, Issa and Living Down the Past

The big kerfuffle of the day concerns the attack on Representative Darrell Issa by presidential political advisor David Plouffe. In order to deflect attention away from Issa’s over-the-top, if accurate claim yesterday that White House press spokesman Jay Carney was a “paid liar” for his well-documented diversions from the truth about Benghazi as well as shifting stories on press snooping and the IRS scandal, Plouffe said this about the chair of the House Oversight Committee on Twitter:

Strong words from Mr Grand Theft Auto and suspected arsonist/insurance swindler. And loose ethically today.

The reference is to a series of charges leveled at Issa in his youth, all of which date back to incidents in the 1970s and early 1980s, and none of which were ever successfully prosecuted. A look at the New Yorker profile about Issa where Plouffe got his material makes it seem as if Issa had a rather tumultuous youth even if he is a self-made millionaire who seems to be the model for today’s high-tech entrepreneurs.

But if the several-decades-old skeletons in Issa’s closet are fair game for political commentary, one has to wonder why it is that a discussion of the ethics and probity of one of MSNBC’s current political commentators has been considered a breach of etiquette for most liberals and Democrats.

I refer, of course, to the record of MSNBC’s Al Sharpton, who began as a street-smart racial hustler and is now a respected former presidential candidate and commentator. In the world of MSNBC, Sharpton is not merely just another liberal talking head; he’s the voice of the civil rights movement used in the network’s promotional videos as an avatar of the cause of equality.

But give credit to the New York Times for commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Tawana Brawley hoax in an online documentary that pays special attention to the role of Sharpton in what was one of the most outrageous instances of public lying in memory.

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The big kerfuffle of the day concerns the attack on Representative Darrell Issa by presidential political advisor David Plouffe. In order to deflect attention away from Issa’s over-the-top, if accurate claim yesterday that White House press spokesman Jay Carney was a “paid liar” for his well-documented diversions from the truth about Benghazi as well as shifting stories on press snooping and the IRS scandal, Plouffe said this about the chair of the House Oversight Committee on Twitter:

Strong words from Mr Grand Theft Auto and suspected arsonist/insurance swindler. And loose ethically today.

The reference is to a series of charges leveled at Issa in his youth, all of which date back to incidents in the 1970s and early 1980s, and none of which were ever successfully prosecuted. A look at the New Yorker profile about Issa where Plouffe got his material makes it seem as if Issa had a rather tumultuous youth even if he is a self-made millionaire who seems to be the model for today’s high-tech entrepreneurs.

But if the several-decades-old skeletons in Issa’s closet are fair game for political commentary, one has to wonder why it is that a discussion of the ethics and probity of one of MSNBC’s current political commentators has been considered a breach of etiquette for most liberals and Democrats.

I refer, of course, to the record of MSNBC’s Al Sharpton, who began as a street-smart racial hustler and is now a respected former presidential candidate and commentator. In the world of MSNBC, Sharpton is not merely just another liberal talking head; he’s the voice of the civil rights movement used in the network’s promotional videos as an avatar of the cause of equality.

But give credit to the New York Times for commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Tawana Brawley hoax in an online documentary that pays special attention to the role of Sharpton in what was one of the most outrageous instances of public lying in memory.

While the name Tawana Brawley is still virtually synonymous with false charges of rape and racism, Sharpton’s part in that disgraceful episode has somehow been shoved down the memory hole by both the political class and the mainstream media, both of which welcomed Sharpton’s entry into their numbers with open arms in the last decade. Looking at Sharpton today as he preens on MSNBC where he is treated as a distinguished civil rights leader and pundit, it’s as if his voluminous record of race baiting disappeared with all the excess weight he lost in recent years before becoming as slim as his good friend Barack Obama.

Much of that record is rightly re-told in an essay in today’s Daily Beast by Stuart Stevens, who makes clear that the Brawley incident was just one of a series of events in which Sharpton told lies and incited hatred against whites and Jews in the hope of making a name for himself. Sharpton succeeded in that effort despite the fact that, as the Times documentary recounts, he was definitively exposed as a liar, falsely accusing a dead state trooper as well as a local prosecutor of taking part in a racially motivated rape of Brawley.

Sharpton’s tactics before he joined the ranks of distinguished talking heads centered on saying the most absurd lies loudly and as often as he could, confident that no one would or could call him out for his buffoonery. But the Brawley case was a bridge too far even for Sharpton and the two extremist lawyers–Alton Maddox and C. Vernon Mason–who were his accomplices. Their client’s bizarre story was easily proved to be a fabrication, making their disgusting accusations not merely wrong but malicious and knowingly false as a grand jury investigation as well as a defamation suit against Sharpton proved.

But all these years later, Sharpton is unrepentant about his behavior, merely claiming that he repeated his client’s lies and thought he was telling the truth. Even worse, he still seeks to muddy the waters by claiming “something happened” when he and the rest of the world knows very well that the only thing that happened was that a scared kid told a lie and was exploited by racial hucksters who amplified those lies in order to hype their own reputations.

You can’t entirely blame MSNBC for treating Sharpton as if his past didn’t matter. The national Democratic Party did the same in 2004 when Sharpton ran as a candidate in their presidential primaries. Just as New York politicians feared angering the rabble rouser in his days before the Brawley case damaged his brand, Democrats chose not to raise the question of his past during debates and instead embraced him as part of their party’s big tent. Ever since then, he’s been able to repeat this feat to the point that it is considered bad manners to even mention Brawley, the Crown Heights pogrom where his anti-Semitic comments helped foment a riot or Freddie’s Fashion Mart, where another piece of Sharpton incitement led to a fire that killed seven people.

Let’s remember that whatever you may think about the old stories about Issa, he was never convicted of thing whereas official proceedings in the Brawley case branded Sharpton a reckless and cynical liar. As Stevens writes, MSNBC executives need to watch the Times documentary and then explain to their kids “why everything you’ve tried to teach them about honesty, fair play, and decency is wrong and Al Sharpton is right.”

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Congress Should Leave the NFL Alone

You may have thought the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has its hands full right now investigating the Internal Revenue Service scandal as well as a host of other pressing issues. But never underestimate the craving of politicians on both sides of the aisle to grandstand on television. Republicans and Democrats may disagree about what to think about the IRS or how closely to press the administration about questions of official misconduct. Yet they are united when it comes to their desire to divert scarce time and energy from their actual responsibilities in order to hold hearings at which they can drag officials of the National Football League and perhaps even some famous players in front of the cameras where members of Congress can lecture them about their need to set a good example for America’s youth.

That’s right. The same Congress that can’t pass a budget, deal with the debt, cope with an impending entitlements crisis or even be counted on to investigate government scandals impartially is preparing to focus like a laser beam on the question of whether professional football players are being tested for every possible performance enhancing drug. As Politico reports, Oversight Committee chair Republican Darrell Issa and ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings—last seen sparring over how to frame the issue of the IRS scandal—are working together to use the threat of a hearing on Human Growth Hormone testing to force the NFL to alter its policies. Whatever one may think of the use of HGH, the league’s testing policies or even of football, this bipartisan decision to involve Congress in what is a non-government business negotiation between the NFL and the NFL player’s union is an unconscionable interference in private commerce. For Issa and Cummings to waste a moment of the federal government’s time on this issue is yet another example of how a naked lust for publicity drives congressional action more than principle, let alone the urgent needs of citizens.

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You may have thought the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has its hands full right now investigating the Internal Revenue Service scandal as well as a host of other pressing issues. But never underestimate the craving of politicians on both sides of the aisle to grandstand on television. Republicans and Democrats may disagree about what to think about the IRS or how closely to press the administration about questions of official misconduct. Yet they are united when it comes to their desire to divert scarce time and energy from their actual responsibilities in order to hold hearings at which they can drag officials of the National Football League and perhaps even some famous players in front of the cameras where members of Congress can lecture them about their need to set a good example for America’s youth.

That’s right. The same Congress that can’t pass a budget, deal with the debt, cope with an impending entitlements crisis or even be counted on to investigate government scandals impartially is preparing to focus like a laser beam on the question of whether professional football players are being tested for every possible performance enhancing drug. As Politico reports, Oversight Committee chair Republican Darrell Issa and ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings—last seen sparring over how to frame the issue of the IRS scandal—are working together to use the threat of a hearing on Human Growth Hormone testing to force the NFL to alter its policies. Whatever one may think of the use of HGH, the league’s testing policies or even of football, this bipartisan decision to involve Congress in what is a non-government business negotiation between the NFL and the NFL player’s union is an unconscionable interference in private commerce. For Issa and Cummings to waste a moment of the federal government’s time on this issue is yet another example of how a naked lust for publicity drives congressional action more than principle, let alone the urgent needs of citizens.

Let’s concede that the use of PEDs is not a good thing and that all sports are better off when the participants aren’t cheating or potentially endangering their health to gain an edge on their opponents.

But the question that neither Issa nor Cummings can honestly answer is how any of this is remotely the business of Congress. Like its previous excursion into the issue of the use of steroids by baseball players, any congressional pressure or hearings are strictly a matter of House members seeking some extra moments in the limelight. While they will spout off about fair play and their wish to prevent kids from emulating the dirty practices of their heroes, what will really be going on is an effort to cash in on the celebrity of players and league officials while posing as the guardians of what is now the country’s most popular—at least in terms of television ratings—sport, even though none of this is any of the government’s business.

Defenders of the committee will say that without their grandstanding on baseball, the sport might not have instituted tough new rules to prevent steroid use. That may be so. But just because something is desirable or the public is interested in it doesn’t make it a congressional responsibility. Lots of private matters might be cleaned up if they were subjected to the bright lights of congressional scrutiny. But the only reason Congress involved itself in baseball or seeks to do so in football has to do with camera time for the members, not an intrinsic government interest.

As for the other excuse for this travesty—the need to protect kids from steroids or HGH—it is a thin reed to support such an endeavor. On the list of dangers to American teenagers, the threat from steroid use on the part of young athletes is so remote that it barely registers in statistics. There are scores of other, more pressing problems for kids that might be worth the Congress’ time. But few other issues bring the alluring prospect of allowing Issa, Cummings and the rest of their publicity-hungry colleagues to talk down to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell or any players the committee might be able to drag into a hearing room.

There are serious issues around the question of HGH use, especially since it is legal to use it in many instances. This particular drug highlights an issue that is largely overlooked amid all the preaching about steroids. HGH shows just how thin the line is between legal and proper medical care that can enable athletes to recover more quickly or completely from injury and substances that are considered beyond the pale.

But its doubtful that such nuanced arguments would be discussed in such a hearing since the whole point of it will be to force the league to enact more stringent testing in order to avoid being shamed by Congress on national television.

The basic purpose of government is to protect our freedom and to provide for the common defense as well as the common good. It is not to ensure that either the National Football League, Major League Baseball or any other sport conform to specific ideas of fairness or what drugs may be used and which must be banned. No matter what happens as a result of these threats to the NFL and the hearings that may ensue, the entire endeavor is an illegitimate use of congressional power.

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State Dept. Admits: No Protest in Benghazi

It only took the State Department a month to acknowledge what the rest of us had gathered weeks ago: there was no random protest outside the Benghazi consulate, unless you consider a group of terrorists armed with heavy artillery a “protest.” According to ABC News, the State Department changed its story now “as part of its investigation,” which tells you just how serious its investigation will be (h/t Allahpundit):

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It only took the State Department a month to acknowledge what the rest of us had gathered weeks ago: there was no random protest outside the Benghazi consulate, unless you consider a group of terrorists armed with heavy artillery a “protest.” According to ABC News, the State Department changed its story now “as part of its investigation,” which tells you just how serious its investigation will be (h/t Allahpundit):

It’s no coincidence that this news came just ahead of Rep. Darrell Issa’s hearing into the State Department’s security lapses. Issa’s investigation will likely look into what the State Department knew and when it knew it — and based on reports about the initial intelligence, it’s a safe bet that State officials were aware of the terrorist attack before they sent UN Ambassador Susan Rice out on TV to claim this was just a spontaneous protest that spiraled out of control.

The question that still hasn’t been answered is why would the State Department put out that false narrative in the first place? Were they asked to do so by the White House, or did they have their own reasons for delaying the bad news? The State Department has tried to slow-walk out any new or negative information since the attack, likely as a form of damage control, but it looks like Issa’s investigation is finally forcing them to speed things up.

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NRA to Score Holder Contempt Vote

The National Rifle Association (NRA) has leverage with House Democrats running for reelection in conservative districts, and its decision to score the Eric Holder contempt vote (in favor of it) will complicate Minority Whip Steny Hoyer’s attempts to keep Democrats united in opposition (h/t HotAir):

“I think there are some members that will consider the recommendations of the NRA,” Hoyer said to reporters today. “Whether they think those recommendations are founded or not, I don’t know at this point.”

The number of Democratic defections could reach 31, according to House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA), whose committee voted last Wednesday to move the contempt citation to a full House vote.

Issa cites a letter sent from 31 Democrats to the Obama administration last year asking for them to be forthcoming with details of the Fast and Furious gun-walking operation as a template for possible Democratic “yes” votes.

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The National Rifle Association (NRA) has leverage with House Democrats running for reelection in conservative districts, and its decision to score the Eric Holder contempt vote (in favor of it) will complicate Minority Whip Steny Hoyer’s attempts to keep Democrats united in opposition (h/t HotAir):

“I think there are some members that will consider the recommendations of the NRA,” Hoyer said to reporters today. “Whether they think those recommendations are founded or not, I don’t know at this point.”

The number of Democratic defections could reach 31, according to House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA), whose committee voted last Wednesday to move the contempt citation to a full House vote.

Issa cites a letter sent from 31 Democrats to the Obama administration last year asking for them to be forthcoming with details of the Fast and Furious gun-walking operation as a template for possible Democratic “yes” votes.

So far, Rep. Matheson is the first Democratic defector. Getting 31 Democrats to cross the aisle still seems like a long-shot for Issa, but the NRA scoring will certainly help. The lobbying group does appear to have had some interest or involvement in the Fast and Furious letter Issa mentions that had 31 Democratic signatories last year, since it was posted on the NRA website under “media.” If the Democrats lose 31 members on this vote, their argument that the GOP is using it as a ploy to tie Holder’s hands on voting rights becomes even more absurd.

The NRA, meanwhile, outlined its justification for scoring the vote in a recent letter to House GOP leadership, making the case that this is about gun rights, not partisanship (h/t Moe Lane):

It is no secret that the NRA does not admire Attorney General Holder. For years, we have pointed out his history of anti-Second Amendment advocacy and enforcement actions. Since taking office, Attorney General Holder has seized on the violence in Mexico to promote the lie that “90 percent” of firearms used in Mexican crime come from the U.S.; to call for bringing back the 1994 Clinton gun ban; and to justify the illegal multiple sales reporting scheme, which amounts to gun registration for honest Americans who buy long guns in southwest border states.

But our support of this contempt resolution is not about those issues — nor is it a partisan decision, for we have also expressed our strong policy disagreements with Attorney General Holder’s predecessors of both parties. The reason we support the contempt resolution is the same reason we first called for Attorney General Holder’s resignation more than a year ago: the Department’s obstruction of congressional oversight of a program that cost lives in support of an anti-gun agenda.

Hoyer will try his best to keep his party in line, but the election is a little more than four months away, and some Democrats won’t be able to afford being on the wrong side of the NRA.

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Issa Confronts WH About F&F Involvement

Via the Daily Caller, House Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa sent a letter to the White House this morning directly challenging its use of executive privilege to obstruct the Fast and Furious investigation. Issa asserted what others have been saying for days now: the executive order suggests that the White House was either involved in some aspect of the Fast and Furious debacle, or the order was unwarranted.

“[Y]our privilege assertion means one of two things,” Issa wrote to the president in a letter dated June 25. “Either you or your most senior advisors were involved in managing Operation Fast & Furious and the fallout from it, including the false February 4, 2011 letter provided by the attorney general to the committee, or, you are asserting a presidential power that you know to be unjustified solely for the purpose of further obstructing a congressional investigation.”

Issa said Obama’s assertion of executive privilege “raised the question” about the veracity of how the “White House has steadfastly maintained that it has not had any role in advising the department with respect to the congressional investigation.”

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Via the Daily Caller, House Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa sent a letter to the White House this morning directly challenging its use of executive privilege to obstruct the Fast and Furious investigation. Issa asserted what others have been saying for days now: the executive order suggests that the White House was either involved in some aspect of the Fast and Furious debacle, or the order was unwarranted.

“[Y]our privilege assertion means one of two things,” Issa wrote to the president in a letter dated June 25. “Either you or your most senior advisors were involved in managing Operation Fast & Furious and the fallout from it, including the false February 4, 2011 letter provided by the attorney general to the committee, or, you are asserting a presidential power that you know to be unjustified solely for the purpose of further obstructing a congressional investigation.”

Issa said Obama’s assertion of executive privilege “raised the question” about the veracity of how the “White House has steadfastly maintained that it has not had any role in advising the department with respect to the congressional investigation.”

This makes it clear that the Eric Holder contempt vote scheduled for Thursday isn’t going to be the end of the story, at least not if Issa can help it. Obama’s assertion of executive privilege can be overturned — under certain circumstances — by Congress or the Supreme Court, and Issa seems to be making a preliminary case for that in this letter.

Issa also gave details on the 11th hour “deal” Holder offered him before the committee contempt vote last week:

“He indicated a willingness to produce the ‘fair compilation’ of post-February 4 documents,” Issa wrote to the president. “He told me that he would provide the ‘fair compilation’ of documents on three conditions: (1) that I permanently cancel the contempt vote; (2) that I agree the department was in full compliance with the committee’s subpoenas, and; (3) that I accept the ‘fair compilation,’ sight unseen.”

That deal is a joke — a permanent cancellation of the contempt vote and an agreement that the Department of Justice cooperated fully in exchange for a stack of documents of Holder’s choosing, “sight unseen”? Issa obviously would never accept such an agreement, and Holder had to have known that. Was Holder was trying to give himself some cover by offering a deal that would likely get rejected, so that he could claim Issa was the one who was unreasonable? Either that, or Holder was actually desperate enough to think Issa might go along with it.

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Boehner: “Justice Dept is Out of Excuses”

House Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa clearly wasn’t bluffing when he circulated a draft contempt order against Attorney General Eric Holder early last month. CBS News reports that Issa has scheduled a committee vote on the contempt charges for June 20:

On Monday morning, Issa formally announced the committee vote on contempt, set for Wednesday, June 20. House Speaker John Boehner also released a statement supporting the move, saying “the Justice Department is out of excuses.”

“Congress has given Attorney General Holder more than enough time to fully cooperate with its investigation into ‘Fast and Furious,’ and to help uncover the circumstances regarding the death of Border Agent Brian Terry,” Boehner added. “Either the Justice Department turns over the information requested, or Congress will have no choice but to move forward with holding the attorney general in contempt for obstructing an ongoing investigation.”

There would apparently be bipartisan support for the motion if it managed to get past the Oversight Committee: Issa told BuzzFeed earlier today that he believes 31 Democrats would support the motion in a floor vote, which is notably the same number of Democrats who signed a letter to President Obama last summer urging him to assist the investigation. Only one of the letter’s Democratic signatories, Rep. Jim Cooper, is actually on the Oversight Committee. Still, the motion is expected to pass.

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House Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa clearly wasn’t bluffing when he circulated a draft contempt order against Attorney General Eric Holder early last month. CBS News reports that Issa has scheduled a committee vote on the contempt charges for June 20:

On Monday morning, Issa formally announced the committee vote on contempt, set for Wednesday, June 20. House Speaker John Boehner also released a statement supporting the move, saying “the Justice Department is out of excuses.”

“Congress has given Attorney General Holder more than enough time to fully cooperate with its investigation into ‘Fast and Furious,’ and to help uncover the circumstances regarding the death of Border Agent Brian Terry,” Boehner added. “Either the Justice Department turns over the information requested, or Congress will have no choice but to move forward with holding the attorney general in contempt for obstructing an ongoing investigation.”

There would apparently be bipartisan support for the motion if it managed to get past the Oversight Committee: Issa told BuzzFeed earlier today that he believes 31 Democrats would support the motion in a floor vote, which is notably the same number of Democrats who signed a letter to President Obama last summer urging him to assist the investigation. Only one of the letter’s Democratic signatories, Rep. Jim Cooper, is actually on the Oversight Committee. Still, the motion is expected to pass.

Issa also told BuzzFeed that he’s given up hope the vote will pressure Holder into turning over the requested documents, and he’s now shifting the burden to President Obama:

Issa said under normal circumstances he’d expect the vote to pressure Holder to turn over the documents, but that now he’s hoping the president intercedes on Congress’ behalf.

“After Thursday’s hearing with the attorney general, no, I don’t expect it, but I would hope that the president would second-guess the man that he says he has full faith and confidence in, and tell him that it’s time to deliver reasonable documents,” Issa said.

The vote will certainly increase the pressure on both the attorney general and the White House, if only because it will incite more media scrutiny and negative press. Contempt votes are extremely rare, and only four officials –  EPA administrator Anne Gorsuch Burford, Attorney General Janet Reno, White House counsel Harriet Miers and Chief of Staff John Bolton — have been found in contempt of Congress since 1983.

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Ask Obama About “Green Jobs”

What exactly is a “green job”? At a hearing yesterday, House Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa tried to get to the bottom of it. And it turns out the definition is so broad that you might have one of these “green jobs” and not even realize it:

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What exactly is a “green job”? At a hearing yesterday, House Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa tried to get to the bottom of it. And it turns out the definition is so broad that you might have one of these “green jobs” and not even realize it:

An antiques dealer. A clerk at a used record shop. An oil lobbyist who advocates on environmental issues. Any school bus driver.

Here is the Bureau of Labor Statistics definition of a green job, via Fox News:

The Bureau of Labor Statistics states a green job is either: a business that produces goods or provide services that benefit the environment or conserve natural resources, or a job in which a worker’s duties involve making their establishment’s production processes more environmentally friendly or use fewer natural resources.

The bureau states on its website it developed the definition of green jobs for use in data collection in two planned surveys.

Certainly such an expansive definition doesn’t help actual efforts to measure green job creation, and to understand which policies work and which don’t. But it does help provide President Obama with a tiny shred of political cover when he’s forced to explain what his $90 billion stimulus earmark for green energy efforts has actually accomplished. At least, it did before Rep. Issa started asking questions.

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Draft Contempt Order Against Holder

Rep. Darrell Issa’s draft contempt order against Attorney General Eric Holder is the latest attempt to pressure the Department of Justice into complying with the House Oversight Committee’s subpoena requests related to Fast and Furious, and whether it works depends on a political calculation by the administration. What’s would be more damaging: releasing these subpoenaed documents, or risking the media circus of contempt procedures?

In the contempt order argument, which was issued to members of the House Oversight Committee today, Issa says he’s still waiting for Holder to release documents for 12 out of 22 categories in the subpoena schedule:

According to the draft contempt order, the department “has yet to provide a single document for 12 out of the 22 categories contained in the subpoena schedule.”

The draft order pointed to three categories in particular. Those categories concerned: who among the department’s top brass should have known about the “reckless tactics” in Fast and Furious; how department leaders ended up figuring out the program was a bad idea; and how a special task force “failed” to share information that could have supposedly led to key gun-trafficking arrests.

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Rep. Darrell Issa’s draft contempt order against Attorney General Eric Holder is the latest attempt to pressure the Department of Justice into complying with the House Oversight Committee’s subpoena requests related to Fast and Furious, and whether it works depends on a political calculation by the administration. What’s would be more damaging: releasing these subpoenaed documents, or risking the media circus of contempt procedures?

In the contempt order argument, which was issued to members of the House Oversight Committee today, Issa says he’s still waiting for Holder to release documents for 12 out of 22 categories in the subpoena schedule:

According to the draft contempt order, the department “has yet to provide a single document for 12 out of the 22 categories contained in the subpoena schedule.”

The draft order pointed to three categories in particular. Those categories concerned: who among the department’s top brass should have known about the “reckless tactics” in Fast and Furious; how department leaders ended up figuring out the program was a bad idea; and how a special task force “failed” to share information that could have supposedly led to key gun-trafficking arrests.

The draft, which lays out the case for contempt should a vote be called, is apparently more than just a hollow threat. Fox News reports that Issa likely wouldn’t have issued it publicly unless he knew he had enough votes to get it through the committee, and the blessing of Speaker Boehner. At that point, Holder would have to either cough up the documents or explain himself to a grand jury. After months of DOJ’s stalling and obstructions, it looks like Congress may finally be heading somewhere on this case.

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How Republicans are Losing Control of the Contraception Debate

The fight about the Obamacare provision requiring Catholic organizations and hospitals to provide employees with birth control could have been a major boost for Republicans. It was an opportunity to simultaneously attack the unpopular health care law, defend religious freedom, and make the case against Big Government overreach.

But somewhere along the way, the debate about religious freedom started shifting into one about the merits of birth control. It’s a debate social conservatives can’t win, since they already lost it about four decades ago – which is exactly why Democrats are so eager to rehash it.

How did the GOP lose control of the narrative so badly?

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The fight about the Obamacare provision requiring Catholic organizations and hospitals to provide employees with birth control could have been a major boost for Republicans. It was an opportunity to simultaneously attack the unpopular health care law, defend religious freedom, and make the case against Big Government overreach.

But somewhere along the way, the debate about religious freedom started shifting into one about the merits of birth control. It’s a debate social conservatives can’t win, since they already lost it about four decades ago – which is exactly why Democrats are so eager to rehash it.

How did the GOP lose control of the narrative so badly?

First, blame the media, which is always willing to do the Democrats’ heavy lifting on social issues (case in point: Darrell Issa’s hearing on religious freedom and the birth control mandate last week snowballed into a fake “scandal”about the lack of women on his first panel).

But Rick Santorum’s long-time opposition to birth control, and his newfound prominence in the primary race, has also helped Democrats take hold of the narrative, by presenting them with the perfect “anti-contraception” boogeyman.

It’s not Santorum’s fault. He’s gamely trying to stick to the real issue – religious freedom for Catholic employers – while pointing out that he has no intention of banning birth control. But he also responded to questions about his own personal views on contraceptives last week. And his comments don’t just put him at odds with most Americans, they’re also helping fuel the Democrat-and-media-manufactured dispute about the merits of birth control access.

Democrats are winning the debate by changing it to one that Republicans never even wanted to have and have no chance of winning. If the GOP wants to get back to the real debate about religious freedom, they’ll have to stop taking the bait on the contraception question. It’s a losing issue.

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The Media’s Subtle Liberal Bias

Often, the bias of the media is evidenced not in the in-your-face liberalism of MSNBC, but in somewhat more subtle ways. Take as an example Politico’s coverage of a congressional hearing earlier today. (See also Jonathan Neumann’s post.) The headline of the story is, “Carolyn Maloney, Eleanor Holmes Norton walk out of contraception hearing.” And the story begins this way: “Two female Democrats walked out of a House Oversight Committee hearing on the contraceptive coverage rule Thursday morning, accusing Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) of manipulating committee rules to block female witnesses from testifying.”

For one thing, the rule in question isn’t simply about contraception; it also covers sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs. But more important is this: This issue is significant not because it involves, in part, the matter of contraception (which I happen to support), but the more fundamental issue of religious liberty. It has to do with the federal government being the aggressor in the so-called culture wars and inserting itself into the internal life of the church and religious institutions. That’s why Protestants who aren’t troubled by contraception have expressed solidarity with Catholics who do.

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Often, the bias of the media is evidenced not in the in-your-face liberalism of MSNBC, but in somewhat more subtle ways. Take as an example Politico’s coverage of a congressional hearing earlier today. (See also Jonathan Neumann’s post.) The headline of the story is, “Carolyn Maloney, Eleanor Holmes Norton walk out of contraception hearing.” And the story begins this way: “Two female Democrats walked out of a House Oversight Committee hearing on the contraceptive coverage rule Thursday morning, accusing Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) of manipulating committee rules to block female witnesses from testifying.”

For one thing, the rule in question isn’t simply about contraception; it also covers sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs. But more important is this: This issue is significant not because it involves, in part, the matter of contraception (which I happen to support), but the more fundamental issue of religious liberty. It has to do with the federal government being the aggressor in the so-called culture wars and inserting itself into the internal life of the church and religious institutions. That’s why Protestants who aren’t troubled by contraception have expressed solidarity with Catholics who do.

The Obama administration has an overwhelming political interest in framing this issue as one having to do with contraception rather than religious liberties. And not surprisingly, most of the press is in lockstep with Obama. We’re seeing dueling narratives play out, and most of the press corps has an obvious stake in promoting one at the expense of the other.

 

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Morning Commentary

As the GOP prepares to read the Constitution on the floor of the House this morning — in a nod to the new Tea Party members of Congress — Seth Lipsky discusses why the reading of the founding document irks the left so much.

Robert Gibbs seems pretty excited to leave the White House for the private sector: “‘The best service I can provide this president is, for the next couple of years, outside this building,’ said Gibbs, who announced Wednesday that he would leave his press secretary job in early February. He will then hit the lucrative speaking circuit and become a paid consultant to the Obama reelection campaign.” And the search for Gibbs’s successor is on. The White House is reportedly looking past in-house candidates, like Joe Biden’s spokesman Bill Burton and Obama deputy press secretary Josh Earnest, and considering outsiders like former DNC spokeswoman Karen Finney.

Lee Smith explains the “condescending moral double standard” that allows Western intellectuals like Roger Cohen to call themselves “liberals” while ignoring, excusing, or praising the murderous actions of the Middle East’s most illiberal regimes: “[L]ike many other Western observers of the Middle East, [Cohen] uses the region as a kind of virtual reality screen on which to project a self-congratulatory vision of a world in which superior beings like himself can naturally expect to live under the sign of law, civility, and morality while lesser beings in other parts of the world are quite naturally ruled by violence.”

David Ignatius is terribly, terribly concerned that the new head of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Republican Darrell Issa, may be the new Joe McCarthy: “It was scary, frankly, to hear Issa describe the executive branch under President Obama as ‘one of the most corrupt administrations.’…When you see the righteous gleam in Issa’s eye, recall other zealous congressional investigators who claimed to be doing the public’s business but ended up pursuing vendettas.”

As the GOP prepares to read the Constitution on the floor of the House this morning — in a nod to the new Tea Party members of Congress — Seth Lipsky discusses why the reading of the founding document irks the left so much.

Robert Gibbs seems pretty excited to leave the White House for the private sector: “‘The best service I can provide this president is, for the next couple of years, outside this building,’ said Gibbs, who announced Wednesday that he would leave his press secretary job in early February. He will then hit the lucrative speaking circuit and become a paid consultant to the Obama reelection campaign.” And the search for Gibbs’s successor is on. The White House is reportedly looking past in-house candidates, like Joe Biden’s spokesman Bill Burton and Obama deputy press secretary Josh Earnest, and considering outsiders like former DNC spokeswoman Karen Finney.

Lee Smith explains the “condescending moral double standard” that allows Western intellectuals like Roger Cohen to call themselves “liberals” while ignoring, excusing, or praising the murderous actions of the Middle East’s most illiberal regimes: “[L]ike many other Western observers of the Middle East, [Cohen] uses the region as a kind of virtual reality screen on which to project a self-congratulatory vision of a world in which superior beings like himself can naturally expect to live under the sign of law, civility, and morality while lesser beings in other parts of the world are quite naturally ruled by violence.”

David Ignatius is terribly, terribly concerned that the new head of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Republican Darrell Issa, may be the new Joe McCarthy: “It was scary, frankly, to hear Issa describe the executive branch under President Obama as ‘one of the most corrupt administrations.’…When you see the righteous gleam in Issa’s eye, recall other zealous congressional investigators who claimed to be doing the public’s business but ended up pursuing vendettas.”

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Morning Commentary

So how’s that “reset” with Russia going? Turns out the U.S.’s light criticism of Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s six-year prison sentence last week did little to faze the Kremlin. Russian police arrested 130 protesters during a New Year’s Eve demonstration against the Khodorkovsky verdict and the country’s prohibition of free assembly.

Greece and the state of California have two things in common — spiraling debt and an unwillingness to take responsibility for it. According to Victor Davis Hanson, it’s no coincidence that both populations can’t stop railing against “them” — the others who apparently created the financial messes Greece and California now face. Writes Hanson: “Oz is over with and the Greeks are furious at ‘them.’ Furious in the sense that everyone must be blamed except themselves. So they protest and demonstrate that they do not wish to stop borrowing money to sustain a lifestyle that they have not earned—but do not wish to cut ties either with their EU beneficiaries and go it alone as in the 1970s. So they rage against reality.”

Over at the Wall Street Journal, Jamie Kirchick calls out Julian Assange for leaking information that has served only to weaken our democracy-supporting allies, such as Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai: “Which leads us back to WikiLeaks and Mr. Assange, who lacks any appreciation for the subtleties of international statecraft, many of which are not at all devious. If Mr. Assange were genuinely committed to democracy, as he claims, he would reveal the minutes of Mr. Mugabe’s war cabinet, or the private musings of the Chinese Politburo that has sustained the Zimbabwean dictator for over three decades.”

Is Obama now cribbing speech tips from the National Review? Bill Kristol has the scoop on the president’s sudden appreciation for American exceptionalism.

With a new year comes a whole host of brand new state laws you may have already unwittingly broken. If you’re from California, check out Mark Hemingway’s post at the Washington Examiner — he has saved you the time of going through the Golden State’s 725 new laws by highlighting the ones that will probably irk you the most.

The incoming Republican chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Rep. Darrell Issa, told Ed Henry on CNN yesterday that he won’t investigate whether President Obama offered Joe Sestak a position in the administration in exchange for dropping out of the Democratic Senate primary in Pennsylvania last year: “That’s — it was wrong if it was done in the Bush administration. It’s wrong in the Obama administration. But remember, the focus of our committee has always been, and you look at all the work I’ve done over the past four years on the oversight committee; it has been consistently about looking for waste, fraud and abuse. That’s the vast majority of what we do,” Issa told Henry. Issa had previously called the Sestak incident “Obama’s Watergate” and said that the Obama administration may have committed “up to three felonies” by making the deal.

So how’s that “reset” with Russia going? Turns out the U.S.’s light criticism of Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s six-year prison sentence last week did little to faze the Kremlin. Russian police arrested 130 protesters during a New Year’s Eve demonstration against the Khodorkovsky verdict and the country’s prohibition of free assembly.

Greece and the state of California have two things in common — spiraling debt and an unwillingness to take responsibility for it. According to Victor Davis Hanson, it’s no coincidence that both populations can’t stop railing against “them” — the others who apparently created the financial messes Greece and California now face. Writes Hanson: “Oz is over with and the Greeks are furious at ‘them.’ Furious in the sense that everyone must be blamed except themselves. So they protest and demonstrate that they do not wish to stop borrowing money to sustain a lifestyle that they have not earned—but do not wish to cut ties either with their EU beneficiaries and go it alone as in the 1970s. So they rage against reality.”

Over at the Wall Street Journal, Jamie Kirchick calls out Julian Assange for leaking information that has served only to weaken our democracy-supporting allies, such as Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai: “Which leads us back to WikiLeaks and Mr. Assange, who lacks any appreciation for the subtleties of international statecraft, many of which are not at all devious. If Mr. Assange were genuinely committed to democracy, as he claims, he would reveal the minutes of Mr. Mugabe’s war cabinet, or the private musings of the Chinese Politburo that has sustained the Zimbabwean dictator for over three decades.”

Is Obama now cribbing speech tips from the National Review? Bill Kristol has the scoop on the president’s sudden appreciation for American exceptionalism.

With a new year comes a whole host of brand new state laws you may have already unwittingly broken. If you’re from California, check out Mark Hemingway’s post at the Washington Examiner — he has saved you the time of going through the Golden State’s 725 new laws by highlighting the ones that will probably irk you the most.

The incoming Republican chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Rep. Darrell Issa, told Ed Henry on CNN yesterday that he won’t investigate whether President Obama offered Joe Sestak a position in the administration in exchange for dropping out of the Democratic Senate primary in Pennsylvania last year: “That’s — it was wrong if it was done in the Bush administration. It’s wrong in the Obama administration. But remember, the focus of our committee has always been, and you look at all the work I’ve done over the past four years on the oversight committee; it has been consistently about looking for waste, fraud and abuse. That’s the vast majority of what we do,” Issa told Henry. Issa had previously called the Sestak incident “Obama’s Watergate” and said that the Obama administration may have committed “up to three felonies” by making the deal.

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The Merits of Measured, Judicious, and Precise Language

In an interview with CNN, Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA), the incoming chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, was asked about his pre-election comments that President Obama was among the “most corrupt presidents” in modern times. Here’s what he said:

I corrected what I meant to say. … In saying that this is one of the most corrupt administrations, which is what I meant to say there, when you hand out $1 trillion in TARP just before this president came in, most of it unspent, $1 trillion nearly in stimulus that this president asked for, plus this huge expansion in health care and government, it has a corrupting effect. When I look at waste, fraud and abuse in the bureaucracy and in the government, this is like steroids to pump up the muscles of waste.

Criticisms of the president and his policies are certainly warranted. Still, Mr. Issa needs to be careful not to toss around the term “corruption” in a promiscuous manner. Corruption is commonly understood to mean extremely immoral, dishonest, or depraved; susceptible to bribery; crooked, and the like. What Richard Nixon did in Watergate and what Bill Clinton did to cover up his affair with Monica Lewinski was corrupt.

The Obama administration, whatever its errors, has not approached the level of corruption or criminality of either the Nixon or Clinton administration. And citing TARP as key evidence to prove the corruption of the Obama administration is discrediting. (For a good account of the merits of TARP, see this Washington Post editorial.)

If lawmakers hope to increase public confidence in Congress, they need to speak in measured, judicious, and precise ways. They need to resist resorting to incendiary charges. And they can’t let their rhetoric get ahead of the evidence. That was true when George W. Bush was president, and it should be true when Barack Obama is president.

There are plenty of legitimate reasons to go after Mr. Obama and his administration. Charging them with being the most liberal administration in our history, or even as among the more pernicious in our lifetime, is, I think, fair. But charging them with being among the most corrupt isn’t.

In an interview with CNN, Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA), the incoming chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, was asked about his pre-election comments that President Obama was among the “most corrupt presidents” in modern times. Here’s what he said:

I corrected what I meant to say. … In saying that this is one of the most corrupt administrations, which is what I meant to say there, when you hand out $1 trillion in TARP just before this president came in, most of it unspent, $1 trillion nearly in stimulus that this president asked for, plus this huge expansion in health care and government, it has a corrupting effect. When I look at waste, fraud and abuse in the bureaucracy and in the government, this is like steroids to pump up the muscles of waste.

Criticisms of the president and his policies are certainly warranted. Still, Mr. Issa needs to be careful not to toss around the term “corruption” in a promiscuous manner. Corruption is commonly understood to mean extremely immoral, dishonest, or depraved; susceptible to bribery; crooked, and the like. What Richard Nixon did in Watergate and what Bill Clinton did to cover up his affair with Monica Lewinski was corrupt.

The Obama administration, whatever its errors, has not approached the level of corruption or criminality of either the Nixon or Clinton administration. And citing TARP as key evidence to prove the corruption of the Obama administration is discrediting. (For a good account of the merits of TARP, see this Washington Post editorial.)

If lawmakers hope to increase public confidence in Congress, they need to speak in measured, judicious, and precise ways. They need to resist resorting to incendiary charges. And they can’t let their rhetoric get ahead of the evidence. That was true when George W. Bush was president, and it should be true when Barack Obama is president.

There are plenty of legitimate reasons to go after Mr. Obama and his administration. Charging them with being the most liberal administration in our history, or even as among the more pernicious in our lifetime, is, I think, fair. But charging them with being among the most corrupt isn’t.

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Are You Now or Have You Ever Been a Zionist?

We know that the Obama administration has been far from friendly to Israel — but is this sentiment now influencing policy at the IRS?

The Jewish group Z Street, which claims that its request for tax-exempt status was delayed by the IRS because of its support Israel, has been engulfed in a legal battle with the government agency for months. The case heated up last week after the organization introduced a letter that appeared to show an IRS agent giving unusual scrutiny to another Jewish group that had also applied for 501(c)3 status. Among the questions asked by the agent: “Does your organization support the existence of the land of Israel?”

Z Street said that this is further evidence that the IRS has started targeting pro-Israel groups. Ben Smith at Politico has the details of the letter:

A Pennsylvania Jewish group that has claimed the Internal Revenue Service is targeting pro-Israel groups introduced in federal court today a letter from an IRS agent to another,  unnamed organization that tax experts said was likely outside the usual or appropriate scope of an IRS inquiry.

“Does your organization support the existence of the land of Israel?” IRS agent Tracy Dornette wrote the organization, according to this week’s court filing, as part of its consideration of the organizations application for tax exempt status. “Describe your organization’s religious belief system toward the land of Israel.”

But are these inquiries simply inappropriate, or are they evidence of an official campaign against Zionist organizations? A couple of tax attorneys consulted by Smith said they found the questions to be out of line:

“The claims go far beyond what should be the IRS’s role,” said Paul Caron a University of Cincinnati law professor and the author of TaxProf Blog.

Ellen Aprill, a law professor at Loyola University in Los Angeles said the second question was “appropriate” in the context of an application seeking a tax exemption on religious grounds.

“The first one is not the way I would want any of my agents to do it,” she said.

Some have wondered why Z Street is waging a public fight against the IRS instead of handling the tax issue privately. But Z Street founder Lori Lowenthal Marcus told me that her main worry here isn’t her own group’s tax-exempt status — it’s whether the government is holding pro-Israel groups to an unfair standard.

“My concern is that people are sort of veering off into tax world instead of Constitutional law,” said Lowenthal Marcus, a former constitutional lawyer, who added that she believes the actions of the IRS could constitute a First Amendment violation.

But apart from Z Street and the unnamed Jewish group mentioned in the letter, other organizations have yet to step up with claims that they were treated unfairly by the IRS.

Lowenthal Marcus said this doesn’t surprise her and noted that taking on the IRS can be an intimidating task. “Who’s going to challenge them?” she asked.

The current evidence is hardly enough to prove that there has been an official change in IRS policy toward pro-Israel groups, but the letter produced by Z Street shows that the case definitely deserves further inquiry. There is precedent for the IRS denying tax-exempt status to groups that clash with the government’s official policy — the Bob Jones University case is the most prominent example. But while the Obama administration has certainly taken an unfriendly stance toward Israel, this position could hardly be characterized as “official” government policy.

Ron Radosh at Pajamas Media also argues that this issue warrants a public investigation and suggests that this might be the task for a Republican-chaired House Oversight Committee: “What must now be publicly investigated — more work, perhaps, for Rep. Darrell Issa,  likely the new chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee — is, as Z Street put it, whether or not the IRS is  ‘improperly considering the political viewpoint of applicants’ and engaging in ‘clear viewpoint discrimination.’”

We know that the Obama administration has been far from friendly to Israel — but is this sentiment now influencing policy at the IRS?

The Jewish group Z Street, which claims that its request for tax-exempt status was delayed by the IRS because of its support Israel, has been engulfed in a legal battle with the government agency for months. The case heated up last week after the organization introduced a letter that appeared to show an IRS agent giving unusual scrutiny to another Jewish group that had also applied for 501(c)3 status. Among the questions asked by the agent: “Does your organization support the existence of the land of Israel?”

Z Street said that this is further evidence that the IRS has started targeting pro-Israel groups. Ben Smith at Politico has the details of the letter:

A Pennsylvania Jewish group that has claimed the Internal Revenue Service is targeting pro-Israel groups introduced in federal court today a letter from an IRS agent to another,  unnamed organization that tax experts said was likely outside the usual or appropriate scope of an IRS inquiry.

“Does your organization support the existence of the land of Israel?” IRS agent Tracy Dornette wrote the organization, according to this week’s court filing, as part of its consideration of the organizations application for tax exempt status. “Describe your organization’s religious belief system toward the land of Israel.”

But are these inquiries simply inappropriate, or are they evidence of an official campaign against Zionist organizations? A couple of tax attorneys consulted by Smith said they found the questions to be out of line:

“The claims go far beyond what should be the IRS’s role,” said Paul Caron a University of Cincinnati law professor and the author of TaxProf Blog.

Ellen Aprill, a law professor at Loyola University in Los Angeles said the second question was “appropriate” in the context of an application seeking a tax exemption on religious grounds.

“The first one is not the way I would want any of my agents to do it,” she said.

Some have wondered why Z Street is waging a public fight against the IRS instead of handling the tax issue privately. But Z Street founder Lori Lowenthal Marcus told me that her main worry here isn’t her own group’s tax-exempt status — it’s whether the government is holding pro-Israel groups to an unfair standard.

“My concern is that people are sort of veering off into tax world instead of Constitutional law,” said Lowenthal Marcus, a former constitutional lawyer, who added that she believes the actions of the IRS could constitute a First Amendment violation.

But apart from Z Street and the unnamed Jewish group mentioned in the letter, other organizations have yet to step up with claims that they were treated unfairly by the IRS.

Lowenthal Marcus said this doesn’t surprise her and noted that taking on the IRS can be an intimidating task. “Who’s going to challenge them?” she asked.

The current evidence is hardly enough to prove that there has been an official change in IRS policy toward pro-Israel groups, but the letter produced by Z Street shows that the case definitely deserves further inquiry. There is precedent for the IRS denying tax-exempt status to groups that clash with the government’s official policy — the Bob Jones University case is the most prominent example. But while the Obama administration has certainly taken an unfriendly stance toward Israel, this position could hardly be characterized as “official” government policy.

Ron Radosh at Pajamas Media also argues that this issue warrants a public investigation and suggests that this might be the task for a Republican-chaired House Oversight Committee: “What must now be publicly investigated — more work, perhaps, for Rep. Darrell Issa,  likely the new chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee — is, as Z Street put it, whether or not the IRS is  ‘improperly considering the political viewpoint of applicants’ and engaging in ‘clear viewpoint discrimination.’”

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It’s the Incompetence

This report confirms what conservatives have long argued: Obama is dragging the government into sectors of the economy in which it has little competence:

A report to be released [today] by the Treasury Department’s Special Inspector General for the Toxic Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP) will contend that President Obama’s push for General Motors and Chrysler to close thousands of dealerships across the country as part of their government bailouts “may have substantially contributed to the shuttering of thousands of small businesses and thereby potentially adding tens of thousands of workers to the already lengthy unemployment rolls, all based on a theory and without sufficient consideration of the decisions’ broader economic impacts.”

The SIGTARP report will further contend, according to Rep. Darrell Issa, the ranking minority member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that it is questionable whether the closings were “either necessary for the sake of the companies’ economic survival or prudent for the nation’s economic recovery.”

You are surprised? Obama’s notion that pristinely apolitical technocrats with great resumes can flip all the switches, turn the knobs, and get the economy purring is exploding before our eyes. The government doesn’t create wealth by massive spending, doesn’t do a better job than the private sector in running industries, and has an agenda based not on economics but on politics (e.g., protecting unions, sparing a vulnerable congressman).

More than the specific maladies of ObamaCare (which are many), this is the core problem with Obama’s great legislative “accomplishment”: it assumes that a centralized bureaucracy can do a better job of containing costs and maintaining quality care than the hundreds of millions of citizens making daily decisions with their doctors. With each revelation — for example, that choice in doctors will be severely restricted – the public gets an inkling that the one-size-fits-all federalized health-care system is going to be every bit as expensive and every bit as objectionable as the nationalized health-care systems that have been tried out in other Western democracies.

All of this is a fine argument for government to do less, not more. Much less.

This report confirms what conservatives have long argued: Obama is dragging the government into sectors of the economy in which it has little competence:

A report to be released [today] by the Treasury Department’s Special Inspector General for the Toxic Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP) will contend that President Obama’s push for General Motors and Chrysler to close thousands of dealerships across the country as part of their government bailouts “may have substantially contributed to the shuttering of thousands of small businesses and thereby potentially adding tens of thousands of workers to the already lengthy unemployment rolls, all based on a theory and without sufficient consideration of the decisions’ broader economic impacts.”

The SIGTARP report will further contend, according to Rep. Darrell Issa, the ranking minority member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that it is questionable whether the closings were “either necessary for the sake of the companies’ economic survival or prudent for the nation’s economic recovery.”

You are surprised? Obama’s notion that pristinely apolitical technocrats with great resumes can flip all the switches, turn the knobs, and get the economy purring is exploding before our eyes. The government doesn’t create wealth by massive spending, doesn’t do a better job than the private sector in running industries, and has an agenda based not on economics but on politics (e.g., protecting unions, sparing a vulnerable congressman).

More than the specific maladies of ObamaCare (which are many), this is the core problem with Obama’s great legislative “accomplishment”: it assumes that a centralized bureaucracy can do a better job of containing costs and maintaining quality care than the hundreds of millions of citizens making daily decisions with their doctors. With each revelation — for example, that choice in doctors will be severely restricted – the public gets an inkling that the one-size-fits-all federalized health-care system is going to be every bit as expensive and every bit as objectionable as the nationalized health-care systems that have been tried out in other Western democracies.

All of this is a fine argument for government to do less, not more. Much less.

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RE: Darrell Issa And the Criminalization of Politics

Pete, you sound a helpful warning on the dangers of overreach and the disturbing tendency to summon special prosecutors as a cure-all for bad government. There are a couple of issues that, I think, are helpful to keep in mind as we look at the issue of oversight and, more broadly, of divided government.

It is understandable that the Republicans would welcome the opportunity for congressional oversight. We have had virtually none of it during the last 18 months. Whether it has been on the failings that led up to Fort Hood, the dismissal of the New Black Panther case, the potential conflicts of interest for Justice Department lawyers who previously represented terrorists, or dozens of other issues, congressional Democrats have placed party loyalty above their obligation to act as a check on the executive branch through congressional oversight. Subpoenas are needed when the government refuses to cooperate with Congressional investigators. Some of those demands for information are not legitimate, in which case Congress generally retreats or is rebuffed by the courts. But at other times, it is the last resort when confronting a Nixonesque administration. In short, Congressional oversight can be abused and boomerang on the investigators, but when an administration is as overreaching and nontransparent as this one, robust oversight is generally a good idea.

The other issue to keep in mind is the distinction between political and legal consequences. Not every bad decision or decision undertaken for corrupt motives is illegal, but there is still a need to expose it and subject the participants to the scrutiny of voters. Normally this is a function we’d expect the media to perform. But again, they are doing a fraction of what they should and normally would do — if a Republicans were in power. For example, a congressional investigation on the shady job offers need not be intended to or result in criminal prosecution; the need to expose the ethical standards of this administration is more than enough reason to conduct some hearings and require testimony under oath.

I would suggest that the proper balance in this is ample congressional oversight, but selective (very selective) use of criminal proceedings. The punishment for unwise, ethically repugnant, and incompetent office holders should come from the ballot box. But to do that we first have to figure out what they are up to. In the Obama era, I think we could use plenty more of that.

Pete, you sound a helpful warning on the dangers of overreach and the disturbing tendency to summon special prosecutors as a cure-all for bad government. There are a couple of issues that, I think, are helpful to keep in mind as we look at the issue of oversight and, more broadly, of divided government.

It is understandable that the Republicans would welcome the opportunity for congressional oversight. We have had virtually none of it during the last 18 months. Whether it has been on the failings that led up to Fort Hood, the dismissal of the New Black Panther case, the potential conflicts of interest for Justice Department lawyers who previously represented terrorists, or dozens of other issues, congressional Democrats have placed party loyalty above their obligation to act as a check on the executive branch through congressional oversight. Subpoenas are needed when the government refuses to cooperate with Congressional investigators. Some of those demands for information are not legitimate, in which case Congress generally retreats or is rebuffed by the courts. But at other times, it is the last resort when confronting a Nixonesque administration. In short, Congressional oversight can be abused and boomerang on the investigators, but when an administration is as overreaching and nontransparent as this one, robust oversight is generally a good idea.

The other issue to keep in mind is the distinction between political and legal consequences. Not every bad decision or decision undertaken for corrupt motives is illegal, but there is still a need to expose it and subject the participants to the scrutiny of voters. Normally this is a function we’d expect the media to perform. But again, they are doing a fraction of what they should and normally would do — if a Republicans were in power. For example, a congressional investigation on the shady job offers need not be intended to or result in criminal prosecution; the need to expose the ethical standards of this administration is more than enough reason to conduct some hearings and require testimony under oath.

I would suggest that the proper balance in this is ample congressional oversight, but selective (very selective) use of criminal proceedings. The punishment for unwise, ethically repugnant, and incompetent office holders should come from the ballot box. But to do that we first have to figure out what they are up to. In the Obama era, I think we could use plenty more of that.

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