House Oversight Chair Darrell Issa has sent out his first subpoenas to the Obama administration--and they're not digging for dirt on Climategate, as had been suggested. Or misspent TARP funds. Or ACORN. Or the New Black Panther Party. Or any of the other pet conservative issues. No, Issa, who has promised to launch about 280 investigations into the White House this year, is looking into whether Homeland Security officials mishandled Freedom of Information Act requests from journalists and activists, The Wall Street Journal's Louise Radnofsky reports. But it shouldn't be much of a surprise that Issa wants to make nice with the press.
The Freedom of Information Act allows the public to request government documents that haven't been released, and it's a treasured tool for reporters trying to unearth the workings of the federal bureaucracy. Issa's subpoenas are for depositions of two homeland security officials who handle FOIA requests. The department has assigned 15 lawyers and six support staff to deal with Issa's requests, Radnofsky reports. And Issa has asked 180 other federal agencies to hand over records of their response to FOIA requests.
It's doubtful he has any intention of playing nice with the White House. But Issa was the subject of a brutal profile in the New Yorker earlier this year; the article detailed the many unpleasant things the California congressman has been accused of, including stealing a car, leaving the scene of an accident, carrying a concealed weapon, firing an employee by showing him a gun, and burning down a building. The story also quoted Issa's spokesman, Kurt Bardella, saying he wanted to make his boss a Washington star. One way to do that? Court the 500 or so people people in town "who track who's up, who’s down, who wins, who loses"--the political press.
Could that explain Issa's unexpectedly modest debut into the world of congressional investigating? Perhaps he wants to be seen as non-partisan guy who's sticking up for reporters. And maybe get them to forget about that alleged-car-theft stuff before he starts rolling out his real headline-grabbing subpoenas that are surely still to come.