House Oversight committee chairman Darrell Issa ramped up his feud with Maryland Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings on Friday, slamming him for hampering the panel's probe of the IRS's tea party-targeting scandal — and efforts to get retired official Lois Lerner to testify about it — out of loyalty to the White House and his own party.
In a scathing letter, Issa accused Cummings of acting like a defense lawyer for Lerner, who has twice refused to answer questions before the committee, most recently on March 5, by invoking her Fifth Amendment rights, The Hill reported
"Your tactics undermine the committee's investigative prerogatives and harm the institutional interests of the House of Representatives," the California Republican wrote.
"Even though the White House helped orchestrate your ascension to ranking member, I have encouraged, and continue to encourage, you to subordinate your political loyalties to the institutional interests of the committee and the House, especially in cases like this where obstructing the committee's work risks permanently disadvantaging Congress in its interactions with the executive branch."
Cummings has argued the GOP's pursuit of a contempt charge against Lerner is politically driven and lacks legal standing. On Wednesday, he wrote to House Speaker John Boehner, contending Issa committed a "fatal error" at the end of the contentious March 5 hearing by not making it clear Lerner would face a charge of contempt by refusing to talk.
"You and your lawyers and consultants say, repeatedly, that our committee did not provide 'certainty for the witness and her counsel that a contempt prosecution was inevitable,'" Issa wrote Cummings, The Hill reported.
"But as a longtime member of the House of Representatives, you know as well as I do that that is a certainty that neither I nor anyone else can provide."
In a blistering response, Cummings shot back that "seven independent constitutional law experts have now concluded that Chairman Issa botched the contempt proceedings," The Washington Examiner reported
"The chairman's letter today provides no House Counsel memo or opinion, even though he and Speaker Boehner claimed they had one this week, and it cites no experts who support his inaccurate view of the Constitution and the law," he charged.
"The entire country has now seen firsthand how Chairman Issa runs this Committee in violation of House Rules, and no reasonable person would accept his legal views over those of the United States Supreme Court. Contrary to Chairman Issa's accusations, we are not defending Lois Lerner or her actions — we are defending the Constitution and the rights it guarantees to all Americans."
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