It’s only been about three months, but the tentative truce between House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and ranking member Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., is already facing its first big test.
At issue is whether Issa will provide copies of whistle-blower documents to Cummings. According to Issa, the person who provided the material to the committee is that afraid Cummings’ staff will give the Obama administration a heads up on what’s been shared and leave the whistle-blower open to retaliation.
In a March 21 letter, Cummings asked for copies of documents provided to the committee by Time Wise Management Systems CEO Rod Rodrigue relating to contracting irregularities at the Commerce Department. The letter included an attached email from Rodrigue’s lawyer that seemed to indicate he was open to letting the Democratic staff view the documents.
Issa, in a March 26 reply obtained by CQ Roll Call, said, “while Rodrigue’s identity is known, he reasonably believes information contained in the documents may expose him to retaliation for blowing the whistle on waste and mismanagement at” Commerce.
“Perceived connections between your staff and the current administration have heightened the witnesses’ concerns about their identities being shared with the Commerce Department,” Issa continued, noting that the Commerce Department lawyer handling this matter is a former Democratic staffer on the oversight panel and that Cummings’ staff director, Dave Rapallo, “formerly worked as a senior White House lawyer.”
The letter is a clear shot across the bow from Issa and a sign his truce with Cummings, hatched in the wake of the November elections, is being stretched. However, Issa did note he would ask Rodrigue’s lawyer whether the CEO had changed his mind about allowing the documents to be shared with Cummings.
The Issa-Cummings pact, initiated by Rapallo in December, is that Issa will consult Cummings on oversight efforts, and Cummings will do his best to stand up for the committee’s prerogatives, which are some of the most far-reaching in government.
So far, the result has been like summer campers singing "Kumbaya" around the campfire compared to last Congress, when Issa and Cummings warred over procedural matters in public, culminating in the bitter episode of the House holding Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in contempt of Congress.
In some quarters, including the White House and among some Republicans on K Street, the truce has been perceived as a sign of Issa’s weakness, and there is chatter that Speaker John A. Boehner has put the California Republican on ice.
Issa fiercely contested that notion in a brief interview last week, saying he is working “very, very hard” to engage Democrats as part of a push to see the committee’s bipartisan legislative agenda enacted into law.
Although the oversight panel has been quiet, there are signs that House leadership is engaged.
Rob Borden, formerly Issa’s general counsel, has moved to a new joint position shared by Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s offices where he is monitoring oversight efforts across separate committees.
Meanwhile, Boehner convened a special meeting last week on investigations into the Benghazi, Libya, terrorist attack with Issa, Reps. Ed Royce and Mike Rogers and Sens. Lindsey Graham, John McCain and Kelly Ayotte to exchange information.