By Dana Milbank
WASHINGTON: “The American people do not want to see a kangaroo court here,” Rep. Jim Cooper, a Tennessee Democrat, said midway through Wednesday’s four-hour prosecution of Obama administration technology experts by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., hopped to attention. “ ‘Kangaroo court’ is quite an accusation,” he said, “and I hope the gentleman from Tennessee, when he uses the term kangaroo court in the future, will think better of making an accusation.”
Sorry, Mr. Chairman, but the pouch fits. It was indeed a kangaroo court, and Issa was the main marsupial.
No human makes leaps quite like Darrell Issa. He leaps to conclusions. He makes huge leaps of logic. He leaps before he looks. And he invariably leaps right into the White House, alleging high-level political misbehavior and administration corruption for just about everything that goes wrong.
On Wednesday, the topic was Obamacare, but the California Republican followed the script he used when investigating “Fast and Furious” gunrunning, the Benghazi attack, and IRS targeting: Make inflammatory allegations of high-level skullduggery, release selective information that appears to support the case while withholding exculpatory details, then use his chairman’s privileges to turn hearings into episodes of “The Darrell Issa Show.”
He went well beyond his own five minutes of questioning time Wednesday without halting, then cut off the ranking Democrat on the panel when he tried to do the same. Issa proceeded to interrupt no fewer than 12 members of the panel — Republicans and Democrats alike — to make additional speeches and ask further questions.
As usual, Issa’s determination to be judge, jury, prosecutor and witness was counterproductive. The administration has a serious screw-up on its hands with the Obamacare launch, and President Obama’s poll numbers show it. Other congressional committees already were deep into investigations of the rollout before Issa started throwing around subpoenas and accusations. His involvement seems to have done little more than revive dispirited Democrats.
Three weeks ago, Issa alleged that the White House ordered contractors to disable the “anonymous shopper” function that would allow people to compare plans. “The White House was telling them they needed these changes,” he told CBS News. Why? He told Fox News that the administration “buried the information about the high cost of Obamacare” so that consumers wouldn’t get “sticker shock.”
In testimony Wednesday, however, an administration IT expert said he ordered the “shopper” function disabled until defects could be repaired and that there had been no political interference.
“So when Chairman Issa stated on national television that the White House ordered you … to disable the shopper function in September for political reasons, to avoid consumer sticker shock, that’s not true, is it?” asked Rep. John Tierney, D-Mass.
“I object,” Issa howled. “The gentleman is repeatedly disparaging and mischaracterizing what I’ve said.” Tierney then proceeded to read Issa’s quotes, verbatim.
The chairman, who made a fortune in car alarms before getting into politics, opened the hearing with his theory that this was “a monumental mistake” made because “efforts were taken to cut corners to meet political deadlines.”
He then allowed the witnesses to say a few words, but couldn’t help interjecting a question between the witnesses’ statements, before adding, “Please, don’t answer yet.”
When his question time did come, he finished it by telling the witnesses he would “recognize the ranking member” — Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md. — “to try to rehabilitate your testimony.”
Issa sprung himself on colleagues regardless of rank or party — Republicans John Duncan (Tennessee) and Patrick McHenry (North Carolina), Democrats Gerald Connolly (Virginia) and Eleanor Holmes Norton, (District of Columbia delegate) — asking them to yield him the floor.
When Republicans Jim Jordan (Ohio) and Jason Chaffetz (Utah) finished before their questioning time had expired, Issa helped himself to it. When Cooper noted, rhetorically, that “we’re not software engineers,” Issa interrupted to say, “You’ve got several here” on the Republican side of the dais.
Several times, before calling on the next questioner, Issa used the moment to offer some additional thoughts of his own: “Mr. Trey Gowdy, you’re right on that they should have had the A team on this. … You know, I never could quite understand how this thing could handle 60,000 simultaneous users but only do six in a day. … Success has many fathers, quite a few mothers, plenty of relatives, but failure is an orphan. You’re going to find an orphan here.”
Ah, yes, the verdict before the trial. And he wants to know why people think he runs a kangaroo court.
Milbank is a Washington Post columnist. Follow him on Twitter, @Milbank.