Darrell Issa's McCarthyist Tactics Might Just Save Obama From the IRS Scandal

By cherry-picking evidence, overstating his case, and violating the principle of presumed innocence, the GOP rep only weakens himself.

In one brief and repugnant interview, the GOP's chief congressional investigator into Internal Revenue Service abuses cherry-picked evidence, overstated his case, and violated the sacred American principle of presumed innocence.

If that was not enough, Rep. Darrell Issa, a California Republican, called White House Press Secretary Jay Carney a "paid liar," and couldn't explain why. "We're getting to proving it," he said.

Meet the best friend of a controversy-plagued Democratic White House: a demagogic Republican.

In a reminder of how the GOP overreached during the Clinton-era sex scandal, Issa doesn't seem capable of letting damning facts speak for themselves.

Interviewed by a smartly skeptical Candy Crowley on CNN's State of the Union, the California Republican found himself on the defensive from the start.

"Congressional investigators tell CNN the [congressional] report finds the IRS spent over $50 million on 225 employee conferences over a two-year period," Crowley said, adding that the Obama administration no longer allows spending on such training.

"So what's the hearing about?" she said. "Why are you having it?"

Issa shifted focus to the IRS's admission that its agents targeted conservative groups for review of their tax-exempt status. "Well, first of all, we're looking at the IRS for how big the problem is," he replied. "As you know as late as last week the administration is still trying to say there's a few rogue agents in Cincinnati when in fact the indication is they were directly being ordered from Washington."

Note what Issa is doing. He does it all the time--start an unsubstantiated allegation with an absolute declaration ("when in fact") and follow it with weasel words ("the indication is"). This smear-and-caveat technique allows him to ruin reputations without being called a liar.

Issa is a demagogue with plausible deniability.

Crowley turned next to excerpts of interviews with IRS agents that were selectively made public. She calls the practice "problematic" because "it's hard for us to kind of judge what's going on."

Cherry-picking evidence is deceptive and unethical. Here's how it works:

CROWLEY: The investigator said, "So, is it your perspective that ultimately the responsible parties for the decisions that were reported by the [inspector general]"--that is, the decision to target tea-party and patriot applications--"are not in the Cincinnati office?" The employee says, "I don't know how to answer that question. I mean, from an agent standpoint, we didn't do anything wrong. We followed directions based on other people telling us what to do." Investigator: "And you ultimately followed directions from Washington, is that correct?" The employee: "If direction had come down from Washington, yes." The investigator: "But with respect to the particular scrutiny that was given to tea-party applications, those directions emanated from Washington, is that right?" The employee answers, "I believe so."

It's totally not definitive.

ISSA: Well, that one isn't.

No "smoking gun." Not even a warm slingshot. And yet, Issa kept digging his hole.

ISSA: But I will tell you, one of the agents asked for and got a transfer because that person was so uncomfortable that they wanted out of it.


ISSA: And they've said categorically they thought it was inappropriate, and that's why that person requested a transfer.

CROWLEY: You give those transcripts as well.

ISSA: Right. And these transcripts will be made public.

If history is a guide, the full transcripts will not support Issa's exaggerated claims and dark accusations. Crowley pressed Issa to release the interviews immediately to avoid the perception that "you in particular sort of cherry-pick information that go to your foregone conclusion."

Presented by

Ron Fournier is editorial director of National Journal.

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