House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), no doubt frustrated his efforts to manufacture White House scandals have faltered, started to lose his composure on CNN yesterday. Perhaps more interesting was the response from a close ally to President Obama.
After lashing out at White House Press Secretary Jay Carney as a “paid liar” – an attack seemingly based on nothing – the California Republican argued without proof that top Obama administration officials were responsible for the IRS controversy. Under scrutiny, however, Issa’s argument quickly crumbled, relying on out-of-context quotes.
It was, however, this reaction from David Plouffe that caught my eye. In President Obama’s inner circle, few are as influential as Plouffe, who ran the Obama campaign in 2008 and served as a White House Senior Adviser to the president up until late January of this year. So when he’s calling the chairman on the House Oversight Committee “Mr. Grand Theft Auto” and a “suspected arsonist/insurance swindler,” it reflects a striking escalation.
Unlike Issa’s rhetorical jabs, Plouffe’s brush-back pitch at least has the benefit of accuracy. As we discussed a few weeks ago, Issa, the man Republicans have tasked with leading investigations into alleged administration misdeeds, really has spent a fair amount of his adult life as a suspected criminal. This Ryan Lizza piece in the New Yorker from a couple of years ago remains relevant.
“Many politicians have committed indiscretions in earlier years: maybe they had an affair or hired an illegal immigrant as a nanny. Issa, it turned out, had, among other things, been indicted for stealing a car, arrested for carrying a concealed weapon, and accused by former associates of burning down a building.”
This is generally one of those truths the political world knows, but chooses not to talk about. It’s not a secret – Issa’s background is the subject of insider jokes and private chatter – but it’s considered impolite to broach the subject publicly.
Which makes Plouffe’s rhetorical shot all the more interesting.
For the record, Lizza’s report on Issa highlighted one run-in with the law after another, including arrests and indictments. There are also many suspected crimes – he’s accused of deliberately burning down a building and threatening a former employee with a gun – which did not lead to formal charges, but which nevertheless cast the congressman in a less-than-flattering light.
The New Yorker report also noted an incident in which Issa was in a car accident with a woman who needed to be hospitalized. He drove away before the police could arrive because, as he told the person he hit, he didn’t have time to wait. Issa didn’t face charges, but he was sued over the matter, and agreed to an out-of-court settlement.
And in case those angles weren’t quite enough, the same article also noted instances in which Issa appears to have lied about his background.
The congressman, for example, claimed to receive the “highest possible” ratings during his Army career, despite the fact that at one point he “received unsatisfactory conduct and efficiency ratings and was transferred to a supply depot.” Issa also claimed to have provided security for President Nixon in 1971, which wasn’t true, and said he won a national Entrepreneur of the Year award, but didn’t.
Perhaps he’s not the kind of guy who should casually throw around words like “liar.”
But the key takeaway here is the fact that Plouffe was willing to go there in the first place, as if to say to Issa, “You want a fight over honesty and ethics? That’s a great idea.” What’s more, also keep in mind that if Democrats seriously pursue this as a line of criticism, Issa and his allies will be cautious in pushing back because they’d prefer not to have this conversation at all – the last thing Republicans want now is a discussion about Issa’s scandalous background and whether he’s the best person available to lead investigations into others’ suspected wrongdoing.