Another very important rule in politics is to double check the phone number and make sure you are calling the right person. On Friday afternoon Darrell Issa’s (R-CA) office received a strange phone call from Brian Fallon, a top spokesman for Attorney General Eric Holder. Could the Justice Department get some help leaking information about the IRS’s scrutiny of conservative groups? asked Fallon. Oops! very wrong number.
Apparently Fallon thought he reached the office of Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) the ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, but it was a staffer in the Republican Chairman’s Office. Fallon said the department wanted congressional staffers to get documents to selected reporters so that officials could comment on them “before the majority” did.
After Issa spokesman Frederick Hill replied that Oversight Committee staffers would have to examine those documents first, the line went silent, and Fallon placed the call on hold for three minutes.
When he returned to the line, Fallon was “audibly shaken,” according to an account of the conversation that Issa recounts in a letter sent to Holder.
The Justice official then said there had been a “change in plans,” that no documents would be released on Friday and that the main reason for the call was to seek a thaw in relations between the department and Oversight Republicans.
Change of plans is “beltway-speak” for “damn I just royally screwed up–big time!”
Issa said it’s clear that the Justice official meant to call Democratic staff and argued the mix-up is proof that President Obama’s administration and Cummings have been collaborating to “prejudice the committee’s work through under-the-table coordination.”
“This highly partisan and combative approach to oversight by the department shows a disregard for the independent investigatory prerogatives of Congress and a deliberate attempt to influence the course of a congressional investigation,” Issa wrote to Holder, adding that it was “unseemly” for the department to favor one party over the other when it came to sharing information.
The documents, Issa added in the letter, are about Andrew Strelka, a former Justice
attorney that once worked for Lois Lerner, the ex-IRS official at the center of
the Tea Party controversy.
Fallon claims he didn’t call the wrong people and it was a totally normal conversaion.
“There is nothing inappropriate about department staff having conversations with both the majority and minority staff as it prepares responses to formal inquiries,” Fallon said. “That includes conversations between the spokespeople for the department and the committee.”
As for Hill [the Issa staffer who took the call], Fallon said following Friday’s conversation, “I guess this means he won’t be interested in having coffee.”
If I was Fallon and made that mistake it wouldn’t be coffee in my cup, probably something more like single malt.
Cummings office responded with with a tap-dance and denial:
The aide said that Cummings and his staff “make their own independent decisions about when to release information to the public and do not improperly coordinate with any executive branch agency.”
“If Chairman Issa’s account is accurate, this sounds like a dumb request from a Justice Department press staffer that Democrats never received,” the aide added.
Issa’s letter leaves some questions unanswered as well. The letter says that the Justice official asked for an Issa staffer by name before giving the pitch that was presumably intended for Cummings’s aides, raising the question of how much collaboration goes on between the Democrats and the administration. Issa added that the Justice official in question — Fallon — had never called his communications department before.
A Democratic staffer on Oversight said it was rich of Issa to complain about selective leaks.
Here’s the real truth, coordination between the White House and committee staffers of their party is nothing new and not unique to the Obama administration. The “unique” part, at least in this case is that Fallon called the wrong office and got caught.
It is however just one more indication that the Obama administration is trying to cover-up the IRS scandal.