Yesterday, much to the chagrin of House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) decided it was time for some sunlight in the IRS investigation. Committee investigators conducted lengthy interviews with IRS officials in Ohio, and while Issa was content to release cherry-picked excerpts from those interviews, Cummings released all 205 pages, letting everyone -- voters, reporters, and policymakers -- get the full picture.
And while I'll confess reading the transcripts last night was remarkably dull, I continue to believe they should effectively end the controversy.
Republican and Democratic committee staffers interviewed IRS official John Shafer on June 6 about the agency's decision to scrutinize a tea party group's application for tax-exempt 501(c)(4) status. Shafer, who identified himself as "a conservative Republican" and said he'd worked for the IRS since 1992, said that he and a fellow screener initially flagged a tea party group and continued to do so with subsequent applications in order to maintain consistency in the process.
Throughout much of the interview, Shafer describes the mundane bureaucratic challenges of dealing with incoming applications for nonprofit status. He said his team flagged the first tea party application because it appeared to be a high-profile case, and he wanted to make sure all high-profile cases received similar attention.
Was the White House involved? "I have no reason to believe that," Shafer said. Did he communicate the then-IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman about the screening of Tea Party cases? "I have not," Shafer added.
I imagine there will be additional hearings and debate, but I'm not altogether sure what more there is to talk about. Every claim Republicans have made, and every effort to create a conspiracy theory involving the White House, appears to have been completely discredited.
Indeed, at this point, I'd like to see Darrell Issa stop asking questions and start answering them.
For example, did Issa try to deliberately mislead news organizations and the public with selectively edited portions of information he knew to be incomplete?
Did Issa violate congressional ethics rules by using his chairmanship to cherry-pick misleading quotes from official transcripts?
Did Issa act alone or did he coordinate his activities with others?
How much public money has Issa spent as part of these endeavors? How much more does he intend to spend going forward?
Remember, we've seen controversies like this before. In 1998, the Republican-led House Oversight Committee shared misleading excerpts from official transcripts with reporters in the hopes of creating a political controversy. Indeed, this came directly from the office of the committee's then-chairman, Dan Burton. When the deception came to light, Burton was forced to accept the resignation of one of his top investors of suspected wrongdoing in the Clinton White House.
(The investigator's name was David Bossie -- who went on to form a little group known as Citizens United. You might have heard of it.)
At first blush, it looks like Issa pulled a very similar stunt. Will there be similar consequences?