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House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) made headlines this week by issuing a subpoena for documents from Attorney General Eric Holder about a botched weapons investigation, but Holder is apparently not Issa’s only target.
A little-noticed provision of the subpoena targets the White House, specifically naming Eric Schultz, a communications aide who was hired in May to respond to media inquiries on oversight matters.
Issa issued the subpoena as part of his investigation into a program called Fast and Furious, which whistle-blowers have described as allowing assault weapons and military-grade sniper rifles to transfer into criminal networks.
The subpoena demands “all communications” to or from Holder and 15 other top Justice Department officials on Fast and Furious, as well as every weekly update memo to Holder on any topic over a nearly two-year period. Issa contends that Holder may have learned about the program much earlier than he has acknowledged, and the California Republican been conducting a blitz of media interviews making that point.
The subpoena also requires Holder to produce “all communications between and among Department of Justice (DOJ) employees and Executive Office of the President employees, including but not limited to Associate Communications Director Eric Schultz, referring or relating to Operation Fast and Furious or any other firearms trafficking cases.”
“We know there were communications that did go to the White House on Fast and Furious. We’ve been told that they were personal communications that just happened to occur. We wanted an official assurance on that,” Issa told Roll Call on Wednesday, jokingly referring to Schultz as “my friend.”
But a GOP source familiar with the committee’s investigation said there was more to the request.
“The question is whether the White House has been instructing the Justice Department on what [documents] to release,” the source said.
The source added that recent allegations by a CBS reporter that Schultz yelled at her over her coverage of Fast and Furious in part prompted Issa’s questions on the matter, but the source maintained that the inquiry is unrelated to Schultz’s communications with reporters.
“This investigation is focused on discussions and communications among officials and not their interactions with outside parties, including reporters,” the source said.
This source noted that “there’s nothing necessarily inappropriate about the White House playing some role” but added that the documents produced by the subpoena will provide a fuller picture of what interaction is taking place.
A lawyer close to the Obama administration said it would not be unusual for the Justice Department to keep the White House informed of how it is responding to Issa’s document demands or to give the White House a heads-up before documents involving White House personnel are sent to Congressional investigators.
But Democrats familiar with the investigation scoffed at the idea that a member of the White House communications staff is telling the Justice Department how to respond to Issa’s document demands.
Other portions of the subpoena also appear to reach beyond Holder’s involvement in the program.
For instance, the subpoena demands that the Justice Department provide all photographs of the crime scene of the slaying of Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agent Jaime Zapata and “surveillance tapes recorded by pole cameras inside the Lone Wolf Trading Co. store between 12:00 a.m. on October 3, 2010 and 12:00 a.m. on October 7, 2010.” Both the store and Zapata’s slaying have been linked to the Fast and Furious operation.
Oversight and Government Reform ranking member Elijah Cummings assailed Issa’s document demands. “This subpoena is a deep-sea fishing expedition and a gross abuse of the committee’s authority,” the Maryland Democrat said. “It demands tens of thousands of pages of highly sensitive law enforcement and national security materials that have never been requested before and are completely unrelated to Operation Fast and Furious. Rather than legitimate fact-gathering, this looks more like a political stunt.”