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The game Issa loves to play

Associated Press

The House Oversight Committee dispatched investigators to interview IRS employees in Cincinnati several weeks ago as part of the investigation into agency scrutiny of groups seeking tax-exempt status, and Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) has seen the full transcripts. What's more, it's been over two weeks since Issa himself vowed to release all of the information to the public.

That hasn't happened. Indeed, as the controversy began to fade, and it became clearer that the political scandal was evaporating, Issa released carefully edited portions of the transcripts -- parts that Issa liked, without context -- in the hopes of fueling the controversy. Now, as the Huffington Postreported, he's doing it again.

In recent days, the California Republican has allowed reporters from local and national news outlets to review portions of his panel's investigative work into the IRS targeting of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status.... According to one journalist who attended a briefing session at Issa's committee office, the ground rules have been fairly strict: Reporters have been given access to a limited number of pages of interview transcripts from which they can take notes (no photocopies). And they have been given access to only a few interview transcripts at a single time, although Issa's staff has spoken with at least half-a-dozen IRS employees about the targeting of tea party groups.

Jennifer Grove, a reporter for Fox19 in Cincinnati, was given a peek into what two IRS employees -- Cincinnati office staffers Gary Muthert and Liz Hofacre, who were assigned to tea party cases -- said about the practice of screening conservative groups. Though there were 300-plus pages of transcripts from the Muthert and Hofacre interviews, Grove was shown just 50 pages.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking member on the committee, "By leaking transcript portions that omit key details from the accounts witnesses provided to the Committee, Chairman Issa has now drawn condemnation even from House Republicans working with him on this very investigation."

That's true, but Issa is nevertheless getting much of what he wants by playing the game this way.

Remember, it's quite likely that Issa has reviewed all of the information and realizes that his dream -- connecting the controversy to the White House and finding imaginary evidence that the president directed the IRS to punish possible enemies -- will not come to fruition. So, the California Republican is doing the next best thing by slowly leaking cherry-picked information in the hopes of creating the air of scandal before Issa is forced to give up and move on to the next manufactured controversy.

And sure enough, by leaking a little bit of information at a time, Issa is helping produce articles like these.

An Internal Revenue Service supervisor in Washington says she was personally involved in scrutinizing some of the earliest applications from tea party groups seeking tax-exempt status, including some requests that languished for more than a year without action.

Holly Paz, who until recently was a top deputy in the division that handles applications for tax-exempt status, told congressional investigators she reviewed 20 to 30 applications. Her assertion contradicts initial claims by the agency that a small group of agents working in an office in Cincinnati were solely responsible for mishandling the applications.

And right on cue, Republicans and their allies seized on this story to suggest "Washington" was "involved" in the IRS controversy. Issa chose which portions of the transcripts to provide to the Associated Press, and got the story he hoped to see.

But as Oliver Willis explained, the new outrage is based on confusion surrounding the old outrage.

In an interview with congressional investigators, transcript of which was released to several news outlets, Paz acknowledged having "reviewed 20 to 30 applications" from politically active groups seeking non-profit. But it was not improper for the IRS to review such applications -- the reason the IRS has been criticized is because they used politically slanted criteria to select conservative, but not progressive, groups to receive that scrutiny. Specifically, the IRS gave additional scrutiny to groups with "tea party," "patriot," and "9/12" in their names.

In her interview, Paz reportedly said she reviewed case files submitted by IRS officials in Cincinnati, Ohio, but that it was the local office that was responsible for selecting those cases for scrutiny.... Thus, by the time Paz reviewed the cases in D.C., the improper behavior had already occurred, consistent with the Obama administration claims that the improper behavior was the fault of officials in Cincinnati.

Indeed, Paz's testimony indicates that she was unaware of the criteria Cincinnati officials were using to select groups for scrutiny.

The slow disappearance of this controversy, such as it is, continues.