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Judge H. Lee Sarokin Headshot

Stop Using the Bully Pulpit for Bullying

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Congressional hearings are meant to gather facts to aid Congress in its oversight responsibilities and its legislative functions. Witnesses are supposedly called to elicit information in the furtherance of those duties and responsibilities, but all too often the hearings are held to embarrass the opposition and abuse its representatives. No one is better at this than Representative Darrell Issa. Acting as prosecutor, judge and jury he declared the head of the Internal Revenue Service guilty of "stonewalling the panel's ( the House Oversight Committee's) investigation into the I.R.S.'s treatment of conservative groups," saying: "Unfortunately you have been more concerned with managing the political fallout than cooperating with Congress." (New York Times 3/27/14 -- "House Oversight Leader Accuses I.R.S. Commissioner of Stonewalling Inquiry")

How is a witness supposed to respond to such a statement? It is not a question which calls for an answer. A witness who attempted to respond would be called out-of-order, or worse, his microphone would be turned off. How unfair is it to require persons to appear subject to the awesome power of Congress and then malign them before the panel? Democrats are guilty of the same abuse, but Republicans have made it an art form. There is really no interest in the responses. Only the questions and the gratuitous statements serve the purpose.

The IRS has given the Committee 420,000 pages of documents. 250 agency employees have spent 100,000 hours collecting the documents. (New York Times 3/27/14) The same is true with Representative Issa's obsession over Benghazi. The AP reports (3/25/14) that those hearings have cost the Pentagon "millions of dollars and thousands of hours of personnel time." And to what end? The focus is not so much on what was or should have been done, but rather on what was said about it afterward. If the Committee is truly worried about the security of its embassies abroad, what possible difference can it make as to what was said about the attacks after they occurred?

Using Congressional hearings for political purposes is nothing new, and both parties play the game, but should there not be some limits, some thought given to the public interest and the issues truly requiring the attention of Congress? Shouldn't there be some sense of fairness, respect, courtesy and decency when government officials are compelled to appear before Congress? While Darrell Issa is flailing the IRS and the State Department (i.e. Hillary Clinton), the country is suffering in a thousand more important ways. If the Congressman wants to be on television, he should go on the Tonight Show and let officials and employees get on with the real work of government. If he keeps it up, he's going to win the Joe McCarthy look-a-like award.