On the Sunday shows, David Axelrod referred to House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) as “disgraceful,” adding that the far-right congressman is “recklessly putting their lives at risk.” Around the same time, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) described Issa’s recent steps as “unconscionable.”
What were they referring to? Josh Rogin has the story.
House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) compromised the identities of several Libyans working with the U.S. government and placed their lives in danger when he released reams of State Department communications Friday, according to Obama administration officials.
Issa posted 166 pages of sensitive but unclassified State Department communications related to Libya on the committee’s website afternoon as part of his effort to investigate security failures and expose contradictions in the administration’s statements regarding the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi that resulted in the death of Amb. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
According to Rogin’s report, Issa did not, however, bother to redact the names of Libyan civilians and local leaders mentioned in the cables, and these U.S. allies in Libya may now find their lives in danger. An administration official told Rogin, “This does damage to the individuals because they are named, danger to security cooperation because these are militias and groups that we work with and that is now well known, and danger to the investigation, because these people could help us down the road.”
Innocent civilians who thought they were doing the right thing by helping the United States may soon be targeted, all because Issa rushed to publish a report before doing his due diligence. And why did he rush? We can only speculate about his motivations, but it’s worth appreciating the context: the Republican committee chairman quickly published the materials on Friday, just as Mitt Romney was preparing for tonight’s debate on foreign policy.
It raises the chilling prospect that the chairman of the House Oversight Committee placed a greater importance on opposition research for Romney than the lives of U.S. allies.
What’s more, let’s not overlook the pattern of Issa recklessness when it comes to the disclosure of sensitive national security information.
Indeed, we talked just two weeks ago about Issa holding an open hearing about the attack in Benghazi, during which he accidentally disclosed CIA activities in Libya.
In July, while trying to score points in the “Fast & Furious” controversy, Issa accidentally disclosed information from a sealed wiretap warrant application. The same month, Issa’s committee accidentally disclosed sensitive security information from the Department of Homeland Security.
There are multiple angles to this. The first, obviously, is coming to terms with Issa’s brutal and possibly dangerous incompetence. I certainly don’t expect House Republican leaders to give the Oversight Committee gavel to a Democrat, but GOP officials have to realize that if Issa cannot deal responsibly with sensitive information, then no matter what happens in the 2012 elections, it’s time to give this chairmanship to someone better suited for the task.
The second is understanding Issa’s motivations. It’s one thing to simply be clumsy; it’s something else altogether if Issa is presenting sensitive information to the public because he’s (a) a little too desperate to undermine President Obama; (b) trying to use his position to help the Romney campaign; or (c) both.
And third is appreciating the consequences of Issa’s missteps. For generations, there has been tension between the executive and legislative branches over transparency and the sharing of information. In recent decades, administrations of both parties have been reluctant to work with oversight committees at least in part because they don’t trust lawmakers to be responsible with sensitive information.
With his ineptitude, Issa is effectively announcing to this administration and administrations in the near future: Don’t share sensitive information with Congress because we can’t be trusted. Issa is, in other words, helping guarantee less openness and less transparency by being so awful at his job.