The government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington today asked the Justice Department and an independent ethics office to examine whether Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) 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 whether to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for his alleged knowledge of a controversial “gun walking” program on the U.S.-Mexico border, entered into the record a letter to Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) that quotes from and describes a wiretap application that has become central in the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s probe of the “Fast and Furious” operation.
The two CREW requests, which were lodged in the form of letters to Holder and the Office of Congressional Ethics, suggests 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. Isssa 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.
Issa, as chairman of the oversight committee of which Cummings is the ranking member, has zeroed in on the wiretap applications as evidence that Holder and other top DOJ officials knew of the tactics being used by agents at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, who allowed straw buyers to purchase guns and transport them over the border, where they ended up in the hands of Mexican drug cartels.
The scheme was intended to allow agents to track the movement of firearms within criminal networks and across borders, but ended in tragedy when guns that were part of the program were found at the murder scene of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry.
Holder and Cummings have said the wiretap applications were not detailed enough that senior DOJ officials would have been aware of the tactics used by agents in the operation. Issa has stated otherwise.
“The wiretap affidavit details that agents were well aware that large sums of money were being used to purchase a large number of firearms, many of which were flowing across the border,” Issa’s May 24 letter to Cummings said.
An Issa spokesman dismissed the CREW complaints as a partisan attack.
“It is shameful that an organization purporting to support good and transparent government is instead making itself complicit in an effort to cover-up a reckless government effort that contributed to the death of a Border Patrol agent,” spokesman Frederick Hill said.
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.