By now everyone has seen the confrontation between Darrell Issa, Republican chairman of the House’s Invent-A-Scandal Committee, and Elijah Cummings, ranking Democrat on what used to be the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. But as usual most of the television press is focusing on the confrontation, which was bad enough and embarrassing enough, but not on what Mr. Cummings was trying to say when Issa tried to shut him up.
I saw Darrell Issa’s appearance on Fox last Sunday and I cringed. Watching Fox do journalism is sort of like watching my wiener dog do the Watusi. After a while you just want to hide your eyes and hope it will soon be over. It just ain’t natural. In any case, Issa was given a chance to roll back his vicious lie about Hillary Clinton—that during the Benghazi attacks she told the military “to stand down”—and Chris Wallace didn’t put up much of a fight when Issa said he didn’t mean to be “explicit” and was just “answering questions in a political fundraiser.” Okay, Darrell, good enough for Fox!
But what interested me about Issa’s appearance was when he told Wallace that Lois Lerner, who was director of the IRS’s Exempt Organizations Division when the trouble with tax-exempt political groups flared up, was apparently willing to testify, after previously pleading the Fifth. Her lawyer told Issa as much, said the chairman. Yippy! I said to myself. Maybeshe will finally shut up those scandal-mad Republicans (even though her emails should have shut them up already) and Fox can get back to its phony Benghazi scandal full-time. Except that the lawyer says he didn’t tell Issa that. And except that when she appeared yesterday she still hung on to the Constitution.
Issa tried to embarrass Ms. Lerner by forcing her to not answer all of his questions, by forcing her to once again say the magic words regarding our precious Fifth Amendment. And that is when the fight with Elijah Cummings comes in. Below is a partial transcript of that sorry episode, which goes beyond what most of us saw on television replays of the event. This transcript tells you all you need to know about why Darrell Issa did not want to respect Mr. Cummings’ right to speak (go to Media Matters for more excellent reporting on the whole thing):
CUMMINGS: Mr. Chairman, I have a procedural question…Mr. Chairman, you cannot run a committee like this. You just cannot do this. We’re better than that as a country. We’re better than that as a committee. I have asked for a few minutes to ask—(interrupted by Issa)—I am a ranking member on this committee and I want to ask a question. What are you hiding? What’s the big deal? May I ask my question? May I state my statement?
ISSA: You’re all free to leave. We’re adjourned. The gentleman may ask his question.
CUMMINGS: Thank you very much. Mr. Chairman, I have one procedural question. And it goes to trying to help you get the information by the way that you just asked.
ISSA: What is your question?
CUMMINGS: No, no. Let me say what I have to say. I’ve listened to you for the last fifteen or twenty minutes. Let me say what I have to say. Chairman, I have one procedural question—
ISSA: Ms. Lerner, you’re released. You may…
CUMMINGS: But first I would like to use my time to make some brief points. For the past year, the central Republican accusation in this investigation [microphone cut] has been—
ISSA: We’re adjourned, close it down.
CUMMINGS: — that this was political collusion directed by, or on behalf of, the White House. Before our committee received a single document or interviewed one witness, Chairman Issa went on national television and said, and I quote, “This was the targeting of the President’s political enemies effectively and lies about it during the election year.” End of quote. He continued this theme—
ISSA: Ask your question.
CUMMINGS: If you will sit down, and allow me to ask the question, I am a member of the Congress of the United States of America. I am tired of this. We have members over here each who represent between them 700,000 people. You cannot just have a one-sided investigation. There is absolutely something wrong with that! That is absolutely un-American!
ISSA: We had a hearing. Hearing’s adjourned. I gave you an opportunity to ask a question, you had no question.
CUMMINGS: I do have a question.
ISSA: I gave you time for…you gave a speech.
CUMMINGS: Chairman, what are you hiding?
UNIDENTIFIED DEMOCRATIC CONGRESSMAN: He’s taking the Fifth, Elijah. (Laughter.)
CUMMINGS: He continued this theme on Sunday, when he appeared on Fox News to discuss a Republican staff report, claiming that Miss Lerner was quote, at the center of this effort to, quote, target conservative groups. Although he provided a copy of his report to Fox, he refused my request to provide it to the members of the committee. The facts are, he cannot support these claims. We have now interviewed 38 employees, who have all told us the same thing. That the White House did not direct this…or even know about it at the time it was occurring. And none of the witnesses have provided any political motivation. The Inspector General, Russell George, told us the same thing. He found no evidence of any White House involvement, or political motivation.
No evidence of White House involvement? No evidence of political motivation? But who needs evidence when you’ve got Fox doing wiener-dog-Watusi journalism!