WASHINGTON -- Rep. Darrell Issa issued two subpoenas this week targeting the Obama administration, reigniting a dispute with Democrats on the House Oversight Committee over how the Republican-led committee will carry out investigations. The subpoenas, his second and third as chairman, demanded that Department of Homeland Security officials testify about how they handle Freedom of Information Act requests.
Issa, a Republican from California, said he would lead vigorous investigations of the administration when he took over the committee, but promised Democrats he would consult with them before issuing subpoenas. Rep. Elijah Cummings, the top-ranking Democrat on the Oversight Committee, was rankled by Issa's decision to subpoena DHS officials without finding consensus with Democrats first.
"[Y]our record is now 0 for 3, and this has resulted in confused, rushed, and unnecessary subpoenas," Cummings wrote. "As I mentioned last Friday, I will stand by you when the Committee is being denied information to which it is legitimately entitled, but I cannot support your actions without the consultation you promised."
Cummings said in the letter he was surprised by the subpoenas because Issa told him in a meeting last week that he planned to request only transcribed interviews with the officials. Instead, Issa reversed course and subpoenaed two officials on Tuesday.
Kurt Bardella, a spokesman for Issa, said the chairman issued the subpoenas so the investigation of DHS could continue moving forward after the department said it would not cooperate with witness interviews. The investigation began after a DHS official provided evidence to the chairman's office that DHS officials might be lying about political interference in the FOIA process, he said.
"Another day, another complaint and more righteous indignation, what else is new?" Bardella said of Cummings' letter.
Issa's first subpoena request as committee chairman also frustrated Democrats, who said Issa overstepped by requesting documents related to members of Congress in a subpoena of the Bank of America Corporation. Issa largely copied a subpoena by Rep. Ed Towns (D-N.Y.) from last session, but tweaked the language so documents related to fellow members of Congress would be delivered to the Oversight Committee rather than the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct.
"[I]f you are not 'targeting any members,' there was no need to expand the subpoena in this way," Cummings wrote to Issa. "Unfortunately, you issued this subpoena before adequately consulting with me or other Members of the Committee."
Issa denied this was an attempt to investigate his fellow members of Congress, telling reporters last week he was "not targeting any members" in the subpoena, but wanted to fully investigate the Countrywide VIP program (Countrywide is now part of Bank of America). "My committee is not a committee that would determine ethical or legal limitations on a member of Congress," he said.
Bardella said the investigations would include documents related to members of Congress because some received VIP mortgages under the "Friends of Angelo" program at Countrywide -- some during the previous Republican majority.
"While members of Congress and their staffs are not targets of this investigation, let's not forget that as the then-Ranking Member of the Financial Services Committee, Congressman Barney Frank has alleged that under the previous Republican majority, good legislation that could have staved off the financial crisis was killed," Bardella said. "If Elijah Cummings can't even accept oversight that focuses on a time when Republicans were in charge, what exactly is he willing to do oversight of?"
UPDATE (4:10 p.m.): Matt Chandler, a DHS spokesman, told HuffPost the department is cooperating fully with the Oversight Committee. "DHS respects the oversight authority of the U.S. Congress and has been cooperating with the committee on this inquiry," he said. "We are working to expeditiously accommodate their requests and will continue to cooperate."
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