Boehner Was Afraid Issa Would Go Full Pumpkin-Shooter on His Holder Probe

When Rep. Dan Burton shot a pumpkin in his backyard in an attempt to prove Vince Foster had been murdered by Bill Clinton's henchmen, he almost ruined Republican congressional investigations.

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It took at year for House Oversight Committee chair Darrell Issa to convince Speaker John Boehner to agree to a floor vote over holding Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt, because Boehner not only wanted to stay focused on the economy, but because he didn't want to repeat of Rep. Dan Burton backyard pumpkin target practice. During his 1994 quest to prove that Vince Foster, deputy White House counsel in Bill Clinton's White House, had not committed suicide but rather had been murdered, the Indiana Republican invited reporters to his house, took out his own pistol, and shot a pumpkin (some say a cantaloupe or watermelon) to see, as he said on the House floor, "if the sound could be heard from a hundred yards away." The test was successful, but the demonstration almost ruined Republican congressional investigations forever. On Fox & Friends earlier this month, Geraldo Rivera said Issa's committee "looks more and more radical to their own Republican leadership" and that the division "diminishes profoundly the clout of the committee."

To get his Fast and Furious investigation going, Politico's Josh Gerstein and Jake Sherman report, Issa had to intensely lobby Boehner. Issa's campaign included:

  • Meetings. A year of private briefings, including a private meeting between Boehner and Issa. For months, Republican leaders told committee staff to find another option other than contempt.
  • Print outs. Issa's staff printed 50 news articles about Fast and Furious to show there was interest in the story around the country. 
  • Seriousness. Issa made sure to mention the name of Brian Terry, the agent who died in the operation, every time he talked about Fast and Furious.
  • Strength in numbers. More than 100 lawmakers signed a resolution saying they had no confidence in the attorney general.
  • Arguing there's no way out. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who sits on the oversight committee, told Politico, "Over the course of a few weeks, Trey Gowdy and I went arm-in-arm to leadership... Over the last eight weeks, we told [leadership], 'Gentlemen, if you have another idea, let us know. But there has to be resolution. We cant let this go into the wind.'"
  • Whittling. Boehner told Issa to make his document request from the Department of Justice smaller. Issa focused on two things: finding out how the Justice Department decided to retract a letter it sent to Congress last year and how it treated whistleblowers.

Boehner was officially convinced on May 18, when he and Issa signed a joint letter which was a sign a contempt vote was coming, but he's made it clear that he was not as psyched about the investigation as Issa. Talking about the investigation on Laura Ingraham's radio show on Thursday, Boehner said, "And while politically this may not be the smartest thing to do, we have taken an oath of office and we are required to follow it." He added, "I and the leadership team worked very closely with Chairman Issa to make sure that all the t's were crossed, all the i's were dotted," Boehner told Ingraham. After the vote, committee member Rep. Jason Chaffetz told Boehner after the vote: "Thanks for having the guts to let us have this."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.