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“Conservative Victimhood”: Why The IRS Non-Scandal Perfectly Represents Today’s GOP

When John Boehner appointed South Carolina congressman Trey Gowdy to chair a select committee on Benghazi, it was like a manager taking the ball from a struggling starting pitcher and calling in a reliever to see if he might be able to carry the team to victory. Except in this case, the starter being pummelled—Darrell Issa, chair of the House Oversight Committee—was still pitching in another couple of games, with no improvement in results. Listening to this NPR story yesterday about Issa’s continued inability to get where Republicans want to go with the IRS scandalette, it occurred to me that it really is an almost perfect expression of contemporary congressional Republicanism.

There’s the obsession with conservative victimhood, (For the record, not one of the nonprofit groups scrutinized by the IRS for possible political activity was constrained from doing anything by having its 501(c)(4) application delayed; a group whose application is pending can operate as freely one whose nonprofit status is already approved.) There’s the utter disinterest in governing or the actual operation of government, in favor of a fruitless quest for partisan advantage. There’s the obliviousness to facts. There’s the fervent belief that even if they can’t find any malfeasance it must surely be there somewhere waiting to be uncovered, because it’s Barack Obama we’re talking about here, and we just know in our guts that he must have done something horrible. Consider these recent remarks from Issa:

An interesting question that gets asked is, “Are we close to the bottom?” The bottom turns out to be here in Washington, Lois Lerner and people directly related to her clearly have been shown to abuse conservatives for their views. Now the question is can we get to the top. So far, Lois Lerner is as high as we’ve been able to substantiate, but we do certainly understand that the IRS commissioners knew or should have known about her activities and made trips to the White House. That’s a big part of where—we may never get those answers, but it certainly looks like Lois Lerner didn’t act alone.

I’m not sure exactly what he means “we’ve been able to substantiate” about Lois Lerner, but he’s sure that the conspiracy goes higher, even up to the top. The IRS commissioner “made trips to the White House,” for pete’s sake! But the fact that in 2014 Issa is still talking about this particular component of the story after it was thoroughly debunked—in actuality, the commissioner made a small number of trips to the White House to attend meetings about implementation of the Affordable Care Act, which involves the IRS verifying income data—demonstrates just how far Issa is from ever getting the goods on the Obama administration. “Lois Lerner didn’t act alone,” he says, not because he actually has any evidence of a conspiracy, but because, well, c’mon!

Which brings us to the final way in which the IRS scandal is a microcosm of this entire era of Republican buffoonery: the hapless bumbling, culminating in humiliating failure. They really thought this scandal had potential. After all, it involved the most hated agency in Washington, and it seemed like they were sure to find the smoking gun. But then they didn’t, and the scandal goes on only in the fevered imaginations that flourish within the conservative bubble. They’ll still be talking about it years from now.

Having failed to catch the Obama administration in an impeachable act, Republicans could at least have used the story to put forward some reforms that could make the IRS work better. They could have proposed clarifying the law on charitable groups, or providing extra training for IRS workers (who plainly found current law vague and confusing to implement, because it is), or any of a number of reforms to make sure nothing even remotely like this happens again. But they didn’t propose those things. What are they advocating instead? Cutting the IRS’ enforcement budget, so it’s easier for people (especially rich people who can employ tax avoidance schemes) to get away with not paying their taxes.

When the scandal didn’t turn out to be what they thought it was, they could have turned it into something productive for the country, and with relatively little effort. (Democrats would surely have gone along with any productive reforms.) But they didn’t bother. And there you have it.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, July 16, 2014

July 19, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, Darrell Issa, Internal Revenue Service | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Asked And Answered”: Hey, Benghazi-Heads, You Stand Down!

Let’s redirect our attention back to Benghazi. When is that special Benghazi committee in the House of Representatives going to get cracking, you may have wondered? Good question. It hasn’t been announced yet. But here’s a better question. What, now, is it going to investigate?

While we’ve all been focused during the past week on the border, there was a pretty major news development on Benghazi that got buried and is in need of a little sunshine. Last week, the Associated Press reported on transcripts of hours of closed-door interviews with nine U.S. military leaders that had been conducted by two House committees, Armed Services and Oversight (the latter is Darrell Issa’s committee). Those military leaders agreed on a, or maybe the, central point as far as this continuing “investigation” is concerned: There was no stand-down order.

The stand-down conspiracy has been a central right-wing talking point virtually since the tragic storming of the consulate, which killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. The idea is that our heroic men and women in uniform could have saved the quartet, but President Obama and Hillary Clinton didn’t want them to, because they’re weak and they want America to fail.

Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz has been among the most vocal and direct Republicans on this point, saying last year: “We had proximity, we had capability, we had four individuals in Libya armed, ready to go, dressed, about to get into the car to go in the airport to go help their fellow countrymen who were dying and being killed and under attack in Benghazi, and they were told to stand down. That’s as sickening and depressing and disgusting as anything I have seen. That is not the American way.”

Issa has made similar comments. South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy, who will chair the special committee once it does get off the ground, has never been quite so matter-of-fact as Chaffetz, but he too has performed the stand-down Fox trot, in a slightly more glancing way back in early May. “Well, Greta, your viewers would still have the same unanswered questions as we have: why our security profile was so low on the anniversary of 9/11; why we didn’t have any assets moving during the siege itself; and why the government can’t be trusted to answer your questions completely and accurately in the aftermath,” he said. “The jury that I’m interested in are reasonable-minded, fair-minded people, like your viewers.” The key phrase there is “why we didn’t have any assets moving,” which means “military people dispatched.”

The transcripts show that that question was answered—back in March—behind closed doors by the two military officials responsible. The senior military officer who issued the “remain in place” order to troops based in Tripoli, 600 miles away, and the detachment officer who received the order both told the House it was the right decision. A four-member team that included the detachment leader, a medic, and two others was told to remain in Tripoli because the determination was made, according to the AP’s reporting on the transcripts, that there was simply no way the team could have reached Benghazi in time to make any difference. The mayhem had already taken place.

If and when these ridiculous hearings happen, I’d wager that you’re going to be hearing Republicans wailing about when the “remain in place” phone call was made. On that question, there is some dispute. It might have happened as early as 5:05 a.m., or it might have happened as late as 6:30 a.m. So that’s a pretty large time window during a crisis for the GOP to exploit. But remember as you hear all this: It doesn’t matter. The second attack at Benghazi happened around 5:30 a.m. and lasted 11 minutes. It takes 90 minutes to fly from Tripoli to Benghazi. So it was completely physically impossible for the team to get there, unless its members had the power to spin the world backward and reverse time, like Christopher Reeve did to bring Margot Kidder back to life.

The officer who gave the order concluded that given that reality, the team would be better off in Tripoli, where the embassy was being evacuated in the aftermath of the Benghazi consulate attack. Some three dozen Americans were being taken from the Tripoli embassy to a classified location outside the city. And lo and behold, the medic who stayed behind in Tripoli saved one American life during the evacuation, according to the report. So according to these officials, the United States suffered one less death because the “remain in place order was issued.

Remember, this testimony is old. March. It was given behind closed doors, so we didn’t know about it. But Darrell Issa, and one has to assume John Boehner, did know. And still Boehner empaneled this committee. Yes, I suppose there are other questions the committee can pursue. But the public-interest question is whether anything more could have feasibly been done to prevent those four deaths in Benghazi, and nine military leaders have said no, it couldn’t have. The other questions are just the usual political ones—can they find some flimsy basis for impeachment, and can they hurt Hillary Clinton. Our troops didn’t stand down then, but someone sure should now.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, July 14, 2014

July 15, 2014 Posted by | Benghazi, Darrell Issa, House Republicans | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Still Looking For Attention”: Darrell Issa’s Flailing Search For His White Whale

Congressional oversight of any administration is important and worthwhile. Indeed, it’s a critical part of the American system to have institutional checks and balances. Lawmakers have a duty to watch the White House and ask tough questions when potential controversies arise.

That said, this was just embarrassing.

Representative Darrell Issa of California, the Republican who is leading one of the investigations into the Internal Revenue Service’s scrutiny of Tea Party groups, accused the I.R.S. commissioner on Monday of lying, an allegation that only deepened the partisan mistrust about the motivations behind the numerous congressional inquiries into the matter.

The hearing on Monday night, before the House Oversight Committee, was the second time in four days in which the commissioner, John Koskinen, was called to Capitol Hill to explain what had happened with the emails.

These questions have already been asked and answered, and there’s simply no evidence of wrongdoing. The IRS won’t apologize for the incident because, in this case, agency officials really haven’t done anything wrong – a fact congressional Republicans seem to recognize but choose to ignore.

But what made last night’s hearing an unusually sad display was, well, just about everything.

Consider for example the fact that it was an evening hearing, which is quite unusual on Capitol Hill. Last week, the House Ways and Means Committee and its chairman, Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), demanded the IRS’s John Koskinen testify on the emails. The relevant people checked calendars and picked a date: the hearing would be the morning of Tuesday, June 24 (today).

Issa, seeing the opportunity for a tantrum, literally 10 minutes later, announced he would hold a hearing with Koskinen about the emails on the evening of Monday, June 23. Why? Because Issa wanted to be first. It just made him feel better.

But Koskinen rechecked his schedule and told Ways and Means he had an opening on Friday, June 20, so they held the hearing then – leaving poor Issa to hold a redundant, evening hearing, asking the same questions of the same official about the same story, three days later.

In other words, Issa, still looking for attention and some semblance of a “scandal” that fell apart a year ago this week, is still hunting for his white whale – except he’s not doing it very well.

It’s become increasingly difficult to take the “controversy” seriously because there’s so little meat on the bones. Yes, it’s understandable to raise questions when computers crash and documents are no longer available, but there’s literally nothing to suggest the missing emails would have been remotely interesting. GOP lawmakers are on a fishing expedition, starting with an answer – there must be some wrongdoing, somewhere, from someone – and then working backwards in the hopes of justifying the agreed-upon conclusion.

Consider what we’ve seen for over a year: Republicans demand information, which the administration supplies, and which shows no conspiracy, no cover-up, and no crime. So Republicans demand different information, which the administration also supplies, and which again shows no conspiracy, no cover-up, and no crime.

Which in turn leads Republicans to ask for still more information. In this case, those materials are no longer available, leading the right and some lazy pundits to declare, “A ha!

This is silly and no way to conduct credible oversight. In my heart of hearts, I strongly suspect Republicans know this, but just don’t care – this is about election-year tactics, mobilizing the GOP’s far-right base, creating fundraising opportunities, and giving conservative media something to talk about.

In reality, though, there’s still nothing here.

Now, John Dickerson argues that the IRS should be better at record-keeping, especially since the tax agency expects much from taxpayers. It’s a fair point. That said, it’s also unrelated to what Republicans care about – the obsession is about politics, not governance – and as Thomas Mann has explained, we’re talking about an agency that “has serious problems, many arising from vast new responsibilities (e.g. the ACA), inadequate resources, and low staff morale in the face of widespread hostility in Congress to the very idea of an Internal Revenue Service.”

If congressional Republicans want to have a mature conversation about how to improve the IRS, that’d be a worthwhile exercise. But by all appearances, the opportunities for mature conversations with GOP lawmakers are far and few between these days.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Madow Blog, June 24, 2014

June 25, 2014 Posted by | Darrell Issa, House Republicans, Internal Revenue Service | , , , , | Leave a comment

“Issa’s Latest Benghazi Stunt Backfires”: The New Story Is The Same As The Old Story

There’s a usual pattern to House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa’s (R-Calif.) media game: he’ll quietly leak misleading information to a news outlet; the outlet will run with the exclusive; then the story will be entirely discredited, leaving everyone involved looking rather foolish. It’s happened more than a few times.

Today, Issa tried to play a similar game, but it backfired much quicker than usual.

The California Republican appears to have sought out a reporter he hoped would be sympathetic – in this case, ABC News’ Jon Karl – with Issa’s new Benghazi scoop.

A still-classified State Department e-mail says that one of the first responses from the White House to the Benghazi attack was to contact YouTube to warn of the “ramifications” of allowing the posting of an anti-Islamic video, according to Rep. Darrell Issa, the Republican chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Issa, in a perpetual state of high dudgeon, issued a statement describing the White House’s message to YouTube as evidence of … something nefarious. It’s not entirely clear what.

But the trouble, as Karl, to his credit, was quick to note in his report, is that Issa’s revelation actually undermines Issa’s preferred narrative.

The memo suggests that even as the attack was still underway – and before the CIA began the process of compiling talking points on its analysis of what happened – the White House believed it was in retaliation for a controversial video. […]

Asked about the document, a senior White House official told ABC News it demonstrates that the White House genuinely believed the video sparked the attack all along, a belief that turned out to be incorrect.

“We actually think this proves what we’ve said. We were concerned about the video, given all the protests in region,” the official said. And the intelligence community “was also concerned about the video.”

In other words, Issa has uncovered a document, intended to discredit the White House’s argument, which actually bolsters the White House’s argument.

So, here’s the larger question to consider: did Issa just not understand his own story, or, as Eddie Vale suggested, did he release this to undercut the select committee Issa is so opposed to?

Either way, when coming to terms with House Speaker John Boehner’s 180-degree turn on creating the new committee, keep today’s story in mind – GOP leaders long ago lost confidence in Issa’s ability to deal with the investigation competently.

Update: Hannah Groch-Begley discovered that today’s “new” story from Issa to ABC is practically identical to news we already learned – from, among others, ABC – in 2012.

 

By: Steve Benen, the Maddow Blog, May 22, 2014

May 23, 2014 Posted by | Benghazi, Darrell Issa | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Converting A Phony Scandal Into Political Cash”: How Much Money Can Republicans Raise Off Benghazi? Ask Darrell Issa

House Republicans’ newly created Benghazi Select Committee has attracted attention to their penchant for using investigations of the Obama administration as a fundraising tool. Most of the criticism, thus far, has concerned the National Republican Campaign Committee’s effort to collect email addresses from those who want to “become a Benghazi watchdog” despite committee chairman Trey Gowdy’s plea that they not do so.

It is no surprise, though, that the NRCC would use Benghazi to the Republican Party’s financial advantage. To understand just how lucrative these scandals can be, look no further than Rep. Darrell Issa. He has offered Republicans a clinic in the science of converting phony scandal into political cash.

For most of his career, Issa was a lackluster fundraiser. But through the first five quarters of the 2014 election cycle, his campaign committee has raised $2,573,258. This is an impressive haul, considering he has not faced significant opposition in more than a decade. The two Democrats vying to challenge him this year together have raised less than $50,000 combined. If Issa’s fundraising continues at its current pace, he will raise more this cycle than in his first four terms in Congress combined.

To understand Issa’s success, you need to see how he has stealthily used his official position as chairman of the House Government Oversight and Reform Committee to build one of the most successful and impressive direct mail operations in the House of Representatives. As chairman of the Oversight and Reform Committee, Issa is outraising colleagues who occupy traditionally more lucrative posts including Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarlin and Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, whose committee is known as one of the easiest perches in Congress to attract campaign contributions from the fossil fuel and healthcare industries.

From his post as chairman, Issa has incessantly beat the drum of Benghazi and other scandals. According to a search of Nexis, the terms “Issa” and “Benghazi” have appeared together in Fox News segments 221 times since September 11, 2012. On Sean Hannity’s show a year ago he proclaimed, “The administration has made a claim that for classified reasons they change the story. We believe right now that may be the biggest lie of all.” Encouraged by Hannity, Issa then stated, “Lying to Congress is a crime,” stoking the conservative fantasy of a lawless White House.

Issa’s campaign website does not contain the standard political pictures of constituents and community events. Instead it contains a panoply of press clippings primarily focused on the Congressman’s investigations of the White House and attacks on Obamacare.  Currently the top two stories on DarrellIssa.com announce the subpoena of Secretary of State John Kerry and an article from Breitbart.com by his former aide and current consultant Kurt Bardella headlined “They Knew and They Lied About Benghazi.” (Breitbart.com notes that Bardella is a “former” aide to Issa but does not disclose that his company Endeavor Strategic Communications was on his campaign committee’s payroll as of his latest FEC filing.)

As a reward, the Republican grassroots have padded Issa’s coffers: The key ingredient to his miraculous fundraising turnaround has not been high-dollar gifts from PACs and lobbyists, but ordinary Republican voters thanking him, through their contributions, for being the president’s number one antagonist. Issa has nurtured this relationship with the GOP base by cultivating an enormous direct-marketing operation. Four of his top six campaign expenditures so far this year were to direct mail firms and his third largest expense was $70,684 paid to the Post Office.

Issa’s FEC reports further demonstrate the success of the program. In the first quarter of 2014, nearly 56 percent of his contributors listed their occupation as “retired”an indicator, often, of a small donor reached through direct mailing. Previously, from the 2006 through 2010 cycle, the pharmaceutical industry was the largest source of donors to his campaigns. This change occurred only after Issa took over the Oversight Committee in 2011.

These donors are not simply responding to the letter they receive in the mail, but the image Issa has cultivated in the media. They see the congressman on Fox News portrayed as the leader in Congress investigating the scandals they feel have come to exemplify this White House and respond with open checkbooks.

Robert Spuhler, a retired community college president from Colorado, who gave $500 to Issa in 2013, explained to USA Today, “I contributed not so much because of him, but what the committee is working on. When you do things like that, you’re going to be targeted by the other party.”

A second donor, George Brandon, who also listed his occupation as retired on FEC forms, told the paper, “I want to see him survive and get to the truth on Benghazi, and I want to see the IRS destroyed.”

Pacific Political, a California firm contracted by Issa, brags on its website that it “has managed the growth of numerous direct mail campaigns, including that of Congressman Darrell Issa, whose house file… has grown from 2,600 donors to 26,000 donors.”

The front page of Pacific Political’s website features a sample direct mail piece whose visible text focuses on the purported attempts by “White House staff” to use “tax dollars to try and smear” Issa as a result of the scandals he is investigating.

Ultimately Issa’s small-dollar fundraising creates an incentive for him to make the wildest accusations possible and to continue investigations after their shelf lives have expired. The longer these inquisitions last, the more questions remain up in the air, the more time the media spend covering the alleged scandal, the more TV time Issa receives on Fox and the more money flows into his campaign coffers.

Accordingly after investigations by the Accountability Review Board, the Senate Intelligence Committee, the House Armed Services Committee and the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Republicans have not given up investigating Benghazi. If the hearings end and the coverage diminishes, the money will stop rolling in.

 

By: Ari Rabin-Havt, The New Republic, May 11, 2014

May 13, 2014 Posted by | Benghazi, Darrell Issa | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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