WASHINGTON -- Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who for more than seven months has been chastising Attorney General Eric Holder for failing to comply with a subpoena, is now fighting his own subpoenas on the grounds that he is too busy to get involved.
In his role as chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Issa has been pressing Holder on the necessity of subpoena compliance since October 2011, when he first subpoenaed the attorney general for documents relating to the Justice Department's botched "Fast and Furious" undercover gun operation.
Holder has since turned over 7,600 pages of documents in 46 separate dumps and, since January 2011, has testified to Congress on the issue seven times. But Issa has charged that Holder is not fully complying with the subpoena and, earlier this month, threatened to hold him in contempt of Congress if he did not produce more documents.
The Justice Department has maintained that it is sticking to protocol in what it can provide on the matter. In the meantime, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the top Democrat on the House committee, has slammed Issa for staking out "an election-year witch hunt."
Yet for all his talk about the necessity of subpoena compliance, Issa does not seem willing to apply that standard to himself. The California Republican confirmed to Roll Call earlier this month that he has been subpoenaed in a trial involving retired baseball star Roger Clemens, who is accused of lying about steroid use during a 2008 hearing before Issa's committee. Clemens' attorneys are seeking Issa's testimony, along with committee documents, for the trial in U.S District Court in Washington.
Lawyers for Issa responded to Clemens' attorneys with a 47-page explanation as to why Issa does not have to comply with their subpoenas. The gist of their reasoning? He's too important, there's nothing unique about his perspective and it would require too much effort.
"Compliance with the subpoena would interfere with Chairman Issa’s official government responsibilities," the document reads. Past legal cases have ruled that "the practice of calling high officials as witnesses should be discouraged" because "high ranking officials have greater duties and time constraints than other witnesses."
Clemens' attorneys also have yet to prove that what Issa might have to say "is not obtainable elsewhere," Issa's lawyers say. And if he were forced to comply, he would have to "drop his daily duties to prepare and to testify in this trial," which would be "an undertaking ... that likely would require weeks if not months of work from multiple Committee lawyers and legal staff."
For all these reasons, "the subpoenas directed to Chairman Issa and the Committee should be quashed," Issa's lawyers conclude.
It's not the first time Issa has refused to comply with subpoenas. In September 2007, Issa was one of about a dozen House lawmakers who would not comply with a subpoena in the Duke Cunningham bribery case because, they said, the subpoena was "too vague."
Issa was among those who "said in statements that they would not comply with the subpoenas on advice from House counsel, who is advising them on the matter. The reason: The subpoenas, issued by Wilkes' attorney, are too vague and the defense has refused to elaborate on the information being sought from the lawmakers, Dale Neugebauer, Issa's chief of staff said Tuesday," according to the Press-Enterprise.
A Democratic source familiar with the activities of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee trashed Issa for the double standard.
"Only in Washington can you find a Congressman upset that DOJ won’t comply with a subpoena [also] refusing to comply with subpoenas," the source said in an email.
An Issa spokeswoman apparently did not agree on there being a double standard.
"Your premise is bullshit," Issa spokeswoman Becca Watkins told The Huffington Post in an email. "Chairman Issa is working with the House Counsel's office to fully meet his legal obligations [in the Clemens case] as determined by the judge who authorized it."
Watkins continued, "The real contradiction here is that a Huffington Post reporter yawns when Administration officials like Eric Holder unilaterally decide they're above the law and aren't going to fully comply with a lawful subpoena, but a Republican Congressman consulting with a judge to determine obligations in a court case is somehow outrageous."
A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment.