Committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-OH) (R) cuts ranking member Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) off during a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Capitol Hill on March 5, 2014 in Washington, DC.
Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty

Issa’s ‘dead end’

House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) no doubt thought he was making a smart political move by scheduling another IRS hearing. The “scandal” stopped being interesting many months ago, but there’s an election coming up, and fundraising letters to be sent out, so Issa likely hoped a new hearing would serve some larger partisan purpose.
Indeed, the California Republican seemed to have a plan: he’d demand testimony from Lois Lerner, the former head of the IRS’ tax exempt division; she would assert her Fifth Amendment rights; and Issa would share his righteous indignation for the cameras. It’s a custom-made stunt for the right, generating plenty of “IRS official takes the Fifth” headlines.
But Issa just couldn’t control himself. Instead of the political world chattering about a discredited controversy, everyone is now shaking their head about Issa cutting off microphones and refusing to let Democrats speak at the hearing. Issa stopped pushing the story and quickly became the story.
The conservative chairman soon after sounded like a man acknowledging defeat.
A reporter than asked Issa if he was still “confident” the investigation would “get to the bottom of this.”
“It may well be we have gotten to the bottom of it,” Issa said. “At this point, roads lead to Ms. Lerner. The witness who to took the Fifth. That becomes – she becomes one of the key characters at this point. Had she been willing to explain those emails which were provided through separate subpoenas, then we could have perhaps brought this to a close. Without that, it may dead end with Ms. Lerner.”
And it’s at this point that even Issa’s Republican allies may have to wonder whether the committee chairman was the right person for this job in the first place.
Dana Milbank noted today just how “unusual” Issa really is.
Earlier in his capricious tenure, he banned Democratic witness Sandra Fluke from a panel about birth control, leaving an all-male slate of witnesses and giving his Republican Party a major embarrassment. His hearings have been chaotic affairs in which he talks over members of his panel, and he has often discredited his committee’s investigations by making incendiary accusations that turn out to be unfounded.
His latest: speculating at a fundraiser last month about why Pentagon assets were not mobilized to protect American facilities in Benghazi, Libya, when they were attacked in 2012 because Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton “told them to stand down.” But the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee found that there were no such orders. “Well,” Issa told Fox News’s Chris Wallace when pressed about this on Sunday, “the use in answering questions in a political fundraiser, that was in response to a question, the term ‘stand down’ is not used in some sort of an explicit way.”
On the IRS, similarly, Issa had said that it was “the targeting of the president’s political enemies effectively and lies about it,” and that he would prove it was directed “out of Washington headquarters.”
But there is no such proof. The evidence Issa is certain exists somewhere appears only in his imagination – alongside similarly strange allegations against the Democratic president the congressman keeps struggling to destroy.
Issa is in his final year as chairman of the Oversight Committee, regardless of the outcome of the 2014 midterms. It’s unclear who’ll succeed him, but at this point, it’s hard to imagine him handing the gavel to someone worse at this job.