Despite vicious partisan sniping on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee over the panel’s investigation of the “Fast and Furious” gun-smuggling operation, it appeared recently that there was a chance to turn the page on the party warfare that culminated in the House voting to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress.
Just days after that vote, Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) took aim at some lawmakers from his own party by releasing a report that said defunct mortgage giant Countrywide Financial Corp. offered special discounts on home loans, which it used to help influence Congress and the White House, to hundreds of Washington, D.C., officials, including key lawmakers from both sides of the aisle.
The committee’s leaders have also conducted other more bipartisan probes — including of a Secret Service prostitution scandal and a lavish General Service Administration conference in Las Vegas.
The panel also secured House passage of the DATA Act, which requires agencies to publish spending information online in a searchable format.
But the partisan fuse might have been reignited Wednesday, when the government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington asked the Justice Department and an independent ethics office to examine whether Issa broke any laws or House rules when he disclosed the contents of a sealed wiretap application in the Congressional Record.
Roll Call first reported late last month that Issa, during floor debate on the contempt vote, entered into the record a letter to Oversight and Government Reform ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) that quoted from and described a wiretap application that has become central in the panel’s Fast and Furious probe.
The two CREW requests, which were lodged in the form of letters to Holder and the Office of Congressional Ethics, suggest that though there is a constitutional clause that largely protects lawmakers from prosecution for their official actions, there are other applicable laws and House rules that the two bodies could use to target Issa.
“Although the Speech or Debate Clause of the Constitution may shield Rep. Issa from prosecution for placing the contents of the sealed wiretap application into the Congressional Record, it would not prevent prosecuting him for discussing the sealed matter with reporters or taking steps to ensure the dissemination of the wiretap application to reporters for publication,” CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan wrote to Holder.
“Even if under the strictures of the Speech or Debate Clause Rep. Issa cannot be prosecuted for disclosing the warrant application, he nevertheless is still subject to House disciplinary procedures,” Sloan wrote to OCE Chief Counsel Omar Ashmawy.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.