Darrell Issa ignited fireworks during a hearing to further investigate the targeting of conservative political groups by the IRS Wednesday when the Republican California Representative called the meeting to a close before Democratic Congressman Elijah Cumming was able to ask what he claimed was a “procedural” question.
The dramatic, slightly theatrical rant (some even called it Oscar worthy) given by Congressman Cummings came after former IRS official, Lois Lerner, once again refused to testify at the hearing, invoking the Fifth Amendment. Lerner is said to have invoked the Fifth Amendment nine times during questioning. Frustrated with her lack of cooperation, Chairman Issa decided to close out the meeting.
This action infuriated Rep. Cummings, who accused the investigation of being “one-sided.” Tensions rose further as Chairman Issa had decidedly had enough of the rant and ordered Rep. Cummings’ microphone to be shut off, stating once again that the meeting was adjourned.
In statements after the hearing, Rep. Cummings says he believes the Democrats are being shut out of the investigation by Republicans, claiming they are “cherry picking information, sending just a few lines from various transcripts.” In other words, he is accusing Republicans of distorting the facts in such a way as to make Ms. Lerner appear guilty.
Chairman Issa told journalists, “Mr. Cummings did not raise a point of privilege or a point or order.” Issa acknowledged Cummings by allowing him to ask a question, but Issa stated, “ He went into an opening statement. Opening statements had already been completed.”
New emails obtained by the House Oversight Committee indicate that Lerner was involved in targeting conservative groups, such as Crossroads GPS, which is headed by former Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, among others. These email messages have reignited media attention on the scandal, which first broke last year, putting the IRS and its activities in the spotlight once again. The House Oversight Committee must now take a vote and decide whether to hold Lerner in contempt.
While much of the attention this scandal has garnered attempts to vilify one side of the political spectrum or the other, the real tragedy is the encroachment on First Amendment rights for individuals and groups who want their voices to be heard, regardless of party affiliation or political philosophy. No government agency should ever participate in activity that serves to oppress the expression of ideas, regardless of whether that group is liberal or conservative. It seems that free speech is starting to become an old-fashioned notion, with government being led by individuals on both sides seeking to silence each other.
Darrell Issa igniting fireworks in the IRS hearing demonstrates behavior that does not bode well for people claiming to belong to a free society. Only time will tell whether the individuals in this country will learn to see past political party affiliation, and recognize the loss of liberty happening around them.
Opinion by Michael Cantrell