Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) is at it again, although he never really seems to stop. Stripped of his Benghazi blankie by the House select committee, and having already exhausted every other branch of the Scandalabra™, Issa is on to a brand new investigation that has the White House openly mocking him.
The IRS scandal won't pan out no matter how hard the media tries to get it to, and no one even remembers why there was something called an "AP scandal," so Issa has now moved on to an investigation that even Alanis Morrissette could correctly identify the irony of, and the White House is rather amused. At Friday's daily briefing, The Hill's Justin Sink followed up his LeBron James question by asking about Issa's latest subpoena, but he prefaced it by saying "And then a little more seriously, I guess, Darrell Issa has subpoenaed Dave Simas to appear..."
Simas, whom you may remember from the Obamacare website-fixing dream team, was appointed to head the newly-formed Office of Political Strategy and Outreach in January.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest interjected, with a smirk,
"Yes, I'm not sure that's very serious."
Earnest followed that zinger with a few minutes of the congressional investigation boilerplate that he gets to use so often, promising cooperation without consenting to a legislative colonoscopy, and briefly explaining the problem with Issa's probe.
"In responding to questions from reporters and from Congress, we've explained that the office operates in full compliance with the Hatch Act [which prohibits non-elected executive branch officials from engaging in partisan activity], and to date, there’s not even any suggestion let alone evidence that we've deviated from the requirements of the Hatch Act. In fact, the Office of Special Counsel recognized in its 2011 report the propriety of having an office in the White House to provide the President with information about the current political environment and political issues nationwide. So I'd encourage you to check out that report if you're as interested in this topic as Darrell Issa apparently is.
We have provided substantial information to Congress and we're going to continue to cooperate with Congress to demonstrate our continued compliance with the Hatch Act. And the fact is that there’s not really any evidence to indicate that there’s a reason for Mr. Simas to appear before Congress. But for years there have been efforts between members of Congress and the White House to resolve these kinds of differences and to allow the legislative branch to perform the necessary function of oversight. So we're going to continue our dialogue with Congress and do our best to make sure that they’re getting the kind of information and answers that they need when it comes to this matter.
But again, I just want to remind you and everyone else who’s covering this that there’s not even a shred of evidence to indicate any cause for concern."
Earnest's little zinger, while highly amusing (mostly because of how completely nuts it will drive right-wingers), isn't even the funny part. The funny part is that Darrell Issa has launched an investigation, based on zero evidence (naturally), to find out if someone is inappropriately using taxpayer dollars for partisan political activities. Darrell Issa. That's a bit like Hannibal Lecter asking who ate all the fava beans.
Issa's investigation relies on two things: an ignorance of the political activities that are permitted under the Hatch Act, and concerns over the Hatch Act substantiated only by violations of it during the Bush administration. The investigation centers around the newly-opened Office of Political Strategy and Outreach, which is the descendant of the Office of Political Affairs, an office that was closed in 2011 when an investigation revealed that the Bush administration had committed multiple violations of the Hatch Act. The Office of Special Counsel did, however, make a distinction between permissible political activity and that which violates the hatch Act, as Earnest said:
One of OPA’s official functions was to advise the President on matters of policy. As discussed earlier in this chapter, OPA staff, under the direction of the Director and the Deputy Director, routinely worked with constituents and political groups to, among other things: evaluate levels of support for Presidential policies and initiatives; plan and develop long range strategies to achieve Presidential priorities; maintain contact with national, state, and local Republican groups; and monitor the political rhythm in key districts across the country. In order to properly advise and assist the President, OPA staff necessarily remained informed about the current political environment. OSC believes these types of functions, which relate to the policies, initiatives, and agenda of the President, are not political activity under the Act.
That's consistent with Earnest's description, and the White House's: "The Office of Political Strategy and Outreach provides the President and Senior Staff with information about the political environment to help advance the President’s agenda and coordinates constituent outreach efforts on behalf of the President."
Unfortunately, the Hatch Act also doesn't prevent people like Darrell Issa from wasting taxpayer money on partisan political investigations, either, even when the only shred of probable cause they have is from the last Republican administration.