Darrell Issa Needs a New Baby-Sitter

If the Democratic Party wants to survive the next two years, it needs to find a new baby-sitter for Darrell Issa.

After all, no one was more gleefully prepared after the shellacking last Tuesday to take over and cause trouble for Democrats that Issa. He’s been planning a series of witch hunts for months. And since Tuesday, Issa has made it clear just how expansive he intends those witch hunts to be.

California Rep. Darrell Issa is already eyeing a massive expansion of oversight for next year, including hundreds of hearings; creating new subcommittees; and launching fresh investigations into the bank bailout, the stimulus and, potentially, health care reform.

Issa told POLITICO in an interview that he wants each of his seven subcommittees to hold “one or two hearings each week.”

“I want seven hearings a week, times 40 weeks,” Issa said.

Issa is also targeting some ambitious up-and-comers like Reps. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, Patrick McHenry of North Carolina and Jim Jordan of Ohio — all aggressive partisans — to chair some of his subcommittees.


To give an idea of how expansive Issa’s oversight plans are, look at the record of Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) when he chaired the oversight committee during in the 110th Congress during George W. Bush’s presidency. Waxman held 203 oversight hearings in two years; Issa has signaled he’s prepared to hold about 280 in just one year.

The current Chair of Oversight, Ed Towns, is not up to the task of keeping Issa in check.

As I noted two years ago, Towns was never all that interested in Oversight; to him it was a gavel and nothing more. Plus, he’s funded by some of the industries–like Pharma–that need some oversight.

More importantly, the last two years have proven him unequal to the task of keeping Issa in line. Indeed, Issa has pushed Towns around to do things like focus on the Countrywide VIP program, even while Towns failed to do much positive with his gavel. Keeping Towns on as Ranking Member of Oversight will deprive us of any way of limiting the damage of Issa’s witch hunts.

We need someone with both the intestinal fortitude and the progressive stripes to encourage Issa where we could use more Oversight–such as on the Wall Street bailout, which Issa promises to investigate–while obstructing Issa’s efforts to shut down government or sniff through Obama’s panty drawer, as Issa’s predecessor, Dan Burton, did to Clinton.

We need someone like Elijah Cummings, who considered a run for Oversight Chair two years ago, and who has been one of the few people on Oversight demanding the Committee do what it is supposed to do. Cummings has been very good at using his spot on the Committee to expose the cronyism of government (particularly on the Wall Street bailout). And of critical importance, he speaks well enough to match a showboater like Issa. He has the ability to expose Issa’s more partisan stunts as such. Finally, replacing Towns with Cummings will limit the complaints of the CBC (particularly in case Clyburn loses to Steny in the Whip fight).

The focus since Tuesday has been on the leadership fight between Steny and others. But just as important as picking the right leader to keep the caucus as effective as possible in the minority, we need to pick a better baby-sitter for Issa–someone like Elijah Cummings.

SEC: CoxSlackers & BushWackers Fiddled While Wall Street Burned

The big outrage de jour making the rounds in the media currently is the porn scandal at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). This report from the Washington Post is typical of the reporting coming out of the main media:

Republicans are stepping up their criticism of the Securities and Exchange Commission following reports that senior agency staffers spent hours surfing pornographic websites on government-issued computers while they were supposed to be policing the nation’s financial system.

California Rep. Darrell Issa, the top Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said it was “disturbing that high-ranking officials within the SEC were spending more time looking at porn than taking action to help stave off the events that put our nation’s economy on the brink of collapse.”

He said in a statement Thursday that SEC officials “were preoccupied with other distractions” when they should have been overseeing the growing problems in the financial system.

Would it be too much for the media to actually think for a moment before they perform stenography for alarmist Darrell Issa? Because even a moment’s pause would yield the realization that Republican outrage on this is absurd and duplicitous. In fact the SEC – IG report produced for another of the Republican howlers, Iowa Senator Charles Grassley, proves the pornification of the SEC was born and grown during the Bush/Cheney Administration and the leadership of Republican stalwart and longtime Issa colleague and friend Chris Cox. The IG Report also demonstrates quite clearly that the vast majority of the incidents occurred during Cox’s reign during the second Bush term, although there were some that continued on during the Obama Administration.

But it is not just that the problem was born and matured under Bush and Cox, it is the fact that it is symptomatic for the emasculation and gutting of the SEC which occurred at their hands and express direction. It was not a bug, but a feature. As Bloomberg News reported last year:

Under former SEC Chairman Christopher Cox, the agency instituted policies that slowed cases and led enforcement-unit lawyers to conclude commissioners opposed fining companies, the Government Accountability Office said in a report today. An unidentified attorney said it was “widely felt” commissioners prevented the division from “doing its job,” according to the report.

“Some investigative attorneys came to see the commission as less of an ally in bringing enforcement actions and more of a barrier,” the GAO said. Cox’s policies “contributed to an adversarial relationship between enforcement and the commission.”

The non-partisan GAO report on the Bush/Cox SEC found poor management, determination to not pursue cases, lack of transparency, and collusion with business interests. It was the Republican philosophy and direction which neutered the SEC. It is little wonder they took to surfing the net for porn, they literally had nothing else to do under Republican “leadership”.

So perhaps the media stenographers ought to remember this when suddenly howling duplicitous Republican shills like Issa and Grassley want to tar, feather and undermine the SEC now that Democratic leadership, led by Mary Schapiro, have cleaned the agency up, turned it around and put it back to work doing its oversight and enforcement job.

On a related note in things financial, our friend Selise is going to be along in comments to discuss her Seminal Diary on financial reform and the commendable Fiscal Sustainability Conference and Teach-In occurring next week in Washington DC. This is a worthy effort and is supported by a variety of progressive interests including Jamie Galbraith and my friend and former colleague, Ian Welsh.

(graphic by nathan bransford)

Things Republicans Think Merit Investigation More than Torture: ACORN

Given how frothy Republicans have gotten about the White House gate-crashers, I thought it’d be worth starting a catalog of things the Republicans think merit investigations more than torture.

Today’s edition: ACORN.

The eight Republican members of Congress who showed up for the hearing didn’t disappoint. With one exception, they labeled ACORN a “criminal enterprise” with close and current ties to the highest levels of the Obama administration and the labor movement.“President Obama previously served as ACORN’s lawyer, participated in ACORN training sessions in Chicago, and presided on the board of two organizations that funded ACORN’s Chicago chapter,” said [Lamar] Smith. An old picture of Obama in an ACORN office was posted near the hearing stand to bolster his point. “The president’s ties with ACORN taint any conclusions the Department of Justice may reach with regard to whether or not to investigate ACORN employees. That’s why I’ve requested that the attorney general appoint a special prosecutor to investigate ACORN.”

To bolster their case, Republicans produced 81 pages of documents about ACORN’s voter registration activities in 2004 and 2006  — a supplement to Issa’s 99-page July 2009 report, “Is ACORN Intentionally Structured As a Criminal Enterprise?”

The 81 new pages, helpfully highlighted by staffers, put ACORN staffers on the record planning voter registration drives and campaigns for “progressive” candidates. They also touched on the organization’s social work — “within the next year Maryland ACORN will conduct 500 new lead tests for low and moderate-income renters and homeowners” — but members and witnesses argued that the organization’s political activity, clearly benefiting Democrats and President Obama, was at least reason to strip it of tax-exempt status.

“The current admin is becoming, in reality, the war room for ACORN’s political machine,” said Issa. “The poor will be better served when ACORN is no longer a go-to place for services.” [my emphasis]

Lamar Smith thinks providing lead tests for low income people is more threatening to this country than torture.

Issa: Waaahhhh! Dems All Reminding Us of Lies CIA Told in 2002!

Here’s Darrell Issa, in the process of getting schooled by Tweety, who called him on his grandstanding attempt to get the FBI to investigate Nancy Pelosi’s allegation that the CIA led to her on September 4, 2002. (Somehow, neither Issa nor Tweety seem interested in the fact that Porter Goss’ statements, to date, support Pelosi’s contention that CIA didn’t tell Congress waterboarding had already been used before they were briefed.)

But I’m more interested in the attention that Issa pays to a much more inflammatory accusation that Paul Kanjorski has made. In his effort to suggest all the Democrats are beating up on CIA, Issa notes that Paul Kanjorski says "he was lied to a week later."

It appears that Issa is not saying that Kanjorski was lied to in recent days (a week after Pelosi made the claim), but rather that Kanjorski says he was lied to in the week after September 4, 2002. Which seems to be this accusation.

In a town hall meeting in Bloomsburg, Pa. this week [leading up to September 3, 2007], Rep. Paul Kanjorski, a 12-term congressman, said that shortly before Congress was scheduled to vote on authorizing military force against Iraq, top officials of the CIA showed select members of Congress three photographs it alleged were Iraqi Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), better known as drones. Kanjorski said he was told that the drones were capable of carrying nuclear, biological, or chemical agents, and could strike 1,000 miles inland of east coast or west coast cities.

Kanjorski said he and four or five other congressmen in the room were told UAVs could be on freighters headed to the U.S. Both secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and President Bush wandered into and out of the briefing room, Kanjorski said.

Kanjorski said it was the second time he was called to the White House for a briefing. He had opposed giving the President the powers to go to war, and said that he hadn’t changed his mind after a first meeting. Until he saw the pictures, Kanjorski said, "I hadn’t thought that Iraq was a threat." That second meeting changed everything. After he left that meeting, said Kanjorski, he was willing to give the President the authorization he wanted since the drones "represented an imminent danger."

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Hank Greenberg Sorta Liveblog

For reasons I explained here, I’m not going to do a full liveblog of Hank Greenberg’s appearance before Oversight today, though will keep half an eye on it. If you want to follow along, it’s on CSPAN3 and this Committee stream (which I can’t get to work).

Most interesting detail, thus far, is that Issa insisted that Greenberg’s lawyer be sworn in, as well as Greenberg. 

Greenberg’s complaining that by nationalizing AIG, it chased employees away. He’s saying it needs a new management team with experience in insurance (as if Edward Liddy doesn’t have insurance experience), emphasizing that said management team needed an internationalist focus, bc that’s what AIG is involved in. He’s arguing too that the govt should just limit its ownership to 15% so that private investors will get involved. He did say that AIGFP should be walled off–that’s a stance I suspect is smart.

Issa just asked Greenberg about the Ferguson case (involving Gen Re) in Connecticut, suggesting Greenberg was an unindicted co-conspirator. Greenberg’s name is all over that, but his lawyer wants to claim he was never tied to that. Also, apparently Greenberg has received a Wells Notice from the SEC. His lawyer didn’t explain what the Wells Notice pertained to.

Hank says to Kanjorski that he is a big fan of transparency. Issa takes that opportunity to introduce an SEC settlement showing that under Hank AIG was engaged in sham reinsurance schemes (this is the Gen Re thing). 

Lynch: The Maiden Lane CDS "are in the toilet."

Hank: Maiden Lane III terrible deal for the taxpayer. Purchased at par, even though the marks on those CDOs way down. 

Hank trying to assure Lynch that it was just chance that they picked OTS as regulator, rather than someone tougher. 

Patrick Kennedy just said he’s going to submit a bill to repeal the repeal of Glass-Steagall!!!

Hank had several conversations with Baxter NYF President, and two conversations with Geithner.

Hank’s Dog and Pony Show

Hank Greenberg will testify before the House Oversight Committee about the AIG collapse today at 10 AM.

I’m uncertain that it’ll be useful in unpacking what happened with AIG at all. If Greenberg’s planned testimony from last fall is any indication (he called in sick for an October 7 AIG hearing, but had already submitted his testimony), he will say that the CDS before he left were hedged properly, not in subprime mortgages, and watched closely by management (that is, by him); but all that changed after he was forced out.  

AIG’s strategy, accordingly, was to look for opportunities in businesses that benefitted from its AAA rating, strong capital base, risk management skills, as well as the intellectual capital needed to manage such diversification.

That led to the creation of AIGFP in 1987. At that time, the derivative market was small and growing. From the beginning, AIG’s policy was that AIGFP conduct its business on a "hedged" basis – that is, its net profit should stem from the differences between the profit earned from the client and the cost of offsetting or hedging the risk in the market. AIGFP would therefore not be exposed to directional changes in the fixed income, foreign exchange or equity markets.

AIGFP, at that time, reported directly to me and Ed Matthews, Senior Vice Chairman, and later to William Dooley, Senior Vice President, supported by AIG’s credit risk and market risk departments. When I was AIG’s CEO, AIG management closely monitored AIGFP and its risk portfolio. AIGFP was subject to numerous internal risk controls, including credit risk monitoring by several independent units of AIG, review of AIGFP transactions by outside auditors and consultants, and scrutiny by AIGFP’s and AIG’s Boards of Directors. Every new type of transaction or any transaction of size, including most credit default swaps, had to pass review by AIG’s Chief Credit Officer.


AIGFP reportedly wrote as many credit default swaps on collateralized debt obligations, or CDOs, in the nine months following my departure as it had written in the entire previous seven years combined.

Moreover, unlike what had been true during my tenure, the majority of the credit default swaps that AIGFP wrote in the nine months after I retired were reportedly exposed to sub-prime mortgages. By contrast, only a handful of the credit default swaps written over the entire prior seven years had any sub-prime exposure at all.

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Darrell Issa Whines He Didn’t Get Enough of Your Tax Dollars to Be a Pest

Darrell Issa and the Republicans on the Oversight Committee are complaining that their committee got only a bigger-than-inflation but smaller-than-other-committees 3.43% increase in funding this year.  Oversight still has the second largest budget of any House Committee, with $22.3 million.

In what some might call a great example of "what goes around comes around," Republican members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee (OGR) are up in arms over what they consider a paltry budget increase for the panel tasked with tracking the operations and spending of the federal government. Democrats say they’re practicing fiscal restraint and that oversight will continue no matter who occupies the White House.

Committee budgets are set by the Committee on House Administration, responsible for the day-to-day operations of the House of Representatives. The panel, chaired by Rep. Robert A. Brady (D-Pa.), gave OGR a 3.43 percent budget increase this year, less than the 10.9 percent bump it requested. The full House is scheduled to vote on the budget increases later this week. OGR’s $22.3 million budget is second only to the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

"We have the second largest budget, but that number is deceiving: we have the largest staff as well," said Kurt Bardella, spokesman for OGR’s Republican members.

I thought Republicans didn’t want any Federal money to go to governance. So why does Issa want an inflation-busting increase?

If Issa weren’t such an asshole, I might be all in favor of an increase in oversight. But seeing as how two months into his tenure as Ranking Member at Oversight, he has already proven to a hypocritical, fairweather advocate of oversight, I have just this to say to Issa:

Darrell? Elections have consequences.

Darrell Issa Fears Michelle’s Triceps, But Not Dick’s Guns

I’m honestly not surprised that Darrell Issa is so insecure in the face of Michelle Obama’s buff triceps that he is now trying to regulate her.

Under Issa’s amendment, any government policy group that Mrs. Obama or another first spouse regularly participates in would be subject to a law requiring meetings to be announced in advance and, in most instances, public.

At the March 10 markup, Issa’s proposal triggered more than 35 minutes of impassioned debate. I’ve linked video of the exchange below, but Democrats clearly seemed to be recoiling at what some viewed as an effort to target Mrs. Obama.


“We are trying actually to protect the historic role of the first lady,” Issa insisted, repeatedly invoking the “transparency” mantra of the Obama administration. “I believe this is open government at its finest.”


“We should have a set of rules that future presidents, vice presidents, first ladies and spouses of vice presidents, understand what their do’s and don’t’s are. Can they have an open meeting? Can they have a closed meeting?” Issa said. “Perhaps we need to get to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for an opinion.”

(Nor am I surprised that the Politico has titled this article as, "GOP transparency push seen as attack on Michelle O.")

But I want to know where the fuck Darrell Issa was when we were trying to protect "the historic role of the Vice President" for the last eight years?!?!? I mean, Issa had no problem with Mr. Fourth Branch conducting major policy work in hiding. But apparently he has decided now is the time to regulate Veeps and First Ladies. 

Darrell Issa’s Burning Concern about White House Emails? Not So Hot…

Last Thursday, Darrell Issa wrote an urgent letter to Greg Craig, expressing concern about reports that White House staffers, in the days after Bush left the White House IT system in perma-crash mode, were temporarily resorting to Gmail.

Dear Mr. Craig:

Last month, several media outlets reported the existence of Gmail accounts issued to incoming members of the White House staff.[1] According to Politico, Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton was "rocking three BlackBerrys . . . one for his Gmail, one for the transition and one for the White House."[2]

As you know, any e-mail sent or received by White House officials may be subject to retention under the Presidential Records Act (PRA).[3]


The challenges posed by retaining e-mail as required under the PRA have proved vexing for the last two White Houses. You may recall the extraordinary problems the Clinton White House had with its e-mail archiving system.[6] Such problems have led to costly expenditures of taxpayer dollars. For example, earlier this month it was disclosed that the Bush White House reportedly spent "more than $10 million to locate 14 million e-mails reported missing."[7] These e-mails were restored after a costly search of approximately 60,000 back-up server tapes.[8]

In order to prevent similar taxpayer-funded e-mail restoration projects, it is incumbent that the new White House implement policies and processes to minimize the risk of losing e-mail subject to the Presidential Records Act. 

I ask that you answer the following questions for the Committee by March 4, 2009. 

One day after Issa sent that urgent letter calling for strict adherence to the Presidential Records Act, the National Security Archive and CREW announced that the Obama Administration would not deviate from Bush’s legal strategy on lost White House emails, which was basically to argue that the Federal Records Act requires only that an agency found to have allowed destruction of Federal Records must initiate efforts to restore those records. Neither a court nor an NGO can force an agency to completely restore records, Bush (and now Obama) argued, they can only order an agency to initiate attempts to restore them.

This administrative scheme is exclusive; a court cannot itself order the recovery or retrieval of records that may have been removed or destroyed, but must instead rely on the detailed processes set forth in the FRA and initiated by the agency heads, Archivist and Attorney General. See Armstrong, 924 F.2d at 294 Read more

A Timeline of Lamar Smith’s Pathetic Attempt to Save Karl Rove

I noticed something rather curious about the timeline of Lamar Smith’s panicked attempt to save Karl Rove’s ass.

July 1: Luskin writes Conyers claiming "Mr. Rove will respectfully decline before the Subcommittee on July 10 on the grounds that Executive Privilege confers upon him immunity from process in response to a subpoena directed to this subject."

July 9: Michael Mukasey says that, "there are various avenues open for exploring those allegations [that Rove was involved in the Siegelman proscution], including exploring their source and having testimony on the subject."

July 9: Fred Fielding writes to Luskin who writes to Congress invoking absolute immunity–but not once mentioning Executive Privilege.

July 15: Lamar Smith submits questions to Karl, giving a July 16 deadline.

July 15: Luskin confirms receipt of the questions for Karl, stating they will respond by July 22.

July 22: Luskin submits Karl’s responses.

July 23: Mukasey testifies and is asked–predictably–about why Rove can’t show up if Mukasey himself has said they can have a hearing. As a follow-up to that question, Darrell Issa introduces Rove’s responses into the record, claiming Rove has therefore dispensed with any questions that might be asked of him that don’t relate to Executive Privilege (and he uses that term).

You see, Lamar Smith’s attempt to save Karl Rove’s ass didn’t even start until after Rove had blown off Congress! It was not, then, an attempt to proactively get testimony from Rove. It was an attempt (however pathetic transparent) to be able to claim that Rove had provided information to Congress before Attorney General Mukasey came to testify. (In fact, I’d wager that the colloquy someone tried to invite Conyers into at the beginning of the hearing was an attempt to enter these questions into the record before Mukasey first got asked about Rove’s non-appearance.)

I suspect the Republicans all know that Rove’s no-show was completely illegal, based not least on his claim that these were his "official duties." I suspect they see some risk that Mukasey will balk at this one (I’ll do another post on this, but Mukasey seemed to claim that Rove had properly invoked Executive Privilege, even while DOJ hadn’t done any analysis of the instant request). And given the risk that Rove’s entire basis for blowing off the Subcommittee is so obviously unfounded, they got these questions to try to tamp down the calls for Rove to testify.