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MILBANK: Facts keep spoiling Darrell Issa’s investigations

  • (CLAY BENNETT / Chatanooga Times Free Press)

This is how a scandal implodes:

First, the head of the investigation overpromises. “This was a targeting of the president’s political enemies, effectively, and lies about it during the election year so that it wasn’t discovered until afterwards,” Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, the chairman of the House oversight committee, said in May of the IRS targeting scandal. He later declared President Barack Obama’s press secretary a “paid liar” for stating otherwise.

Next, facts emerge to undermine the investigator’s presuppositions. Documents released by Ways and Means committee Democrats last week show that the IRS, in addition to targeting tea party groups, also had “Be on the Lookout” (BOLO) lists for groups using descriptors such as “progressive,” “health care legislation,” “medical marijuana,” “paying national debt” and “green energy.”

Finally, evidence surfaces that the investigator stacked the deck. Last Tuesday night, the Hill newspaper quoted a spokesman for Treasury’s inspector general, Russell George, saying the group was asked by Issa “to narrowly focus on tea party organizations.” The inspectors knew there were other terms, but “that was outside the scope of our audit.”

Certainly, something went badly wrong at the IRS that caused groups to be targeted because of ideology. But it’s nothing like the conspiracy Issa cooked up.

The White House deserves some of the blame for letting things get this far; a full release of information by the administration at the outset would have put the controversy to rest quickly. But the collapse of the Issa-driven scandal has reinforced a growing impression in the capital that ultimately will help Obama: The chairman is full of it.

When I covered President Bill Clinton’s second term, White House officials were delighted to have the eccentric Dan Burton in charge of the House oversight committee. He gained prominence by shooting a melon to try to prove that Clinton aide Vince Foster hadn’t killed himself but had been murdered.

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