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Darrell Issa's E-Mailgate Worries GOP, Delights Democrats

Mar 2, 2011

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Frank James

Rep. Darrell Issa, the California Republican and chair of the House Oversight and Investigations Committee, wasn't supposed to be a fount of joy for Democrats.

If anything, he was expected to become their unyielding scourge, calling Obama Administration officials to Capitol Hill to make them squirm for endless hours at hearing after hearing.

So imagine the Democratic schadenfreude over the news that Issa's first victim was not an Obama official but one of Issa's own aides. It's the world turned upside down.

On Tuesday, Issa fired Kurt Bardella, 27, who handled media relations for him after discovering that Bardella was sharing e-mails from reporters with a New York Times reporter who is working on a book about Washington culture.

While such behavior may be legal, it's unethical to the nth degree.

When reporters e-mail or phone their queries to a congressman's press aide, it's with the understanding that their communications won't be passed along to other journalists.

It would be like a supplier to retailers secretly sharing the e-mails from some of those retailers with another. It's hard to establish trust when that's going on.

Not that busybody reporters won't ask a press aide what other journalists are asking. Most of us have brazenly done that.

At which point, professional press aides typically smile and say: "You know I can't tell you that."

So Issa fired Bardella Tuesday after determining there was a basis for allegations that the aide had wrongly shared journalist e-mails.

And now the question is will there be lasting damage to Issa's ability to hound the Obama Administration? Apparently, even fellow Republicans are wondering about that.

From Politico:

"Yes it could," said one Republican staffer who has long known Bardella, when asked if this could affect the committee's work. "Issa actually has a job to do. He needs the press and the public to trust him to be able to do that job effectively. He needs to hire someone the press trusts and can work with. If they don't trust him, and in turn can't reach the public and do his job effectively, well."

Democrats, for their part, could barely contain their mirth at Issa's misfortune. More from Politico:

Democrats, meanwhile, were eager to portray the episode as one of many missteps in Issa's work as committee chairman.

"Oops, what happened to your message? He was so in command, so full of self-righteousness, and there wasn't even, say, a dose of hubris and this happens; maybe it causes you to pull back a little bit and show a little more humility," said Rep. Gerald Connolly, a Virginia Democrat on the committee. "We're all human, including you. When you set yourself up as holier than everyone else, you set yourself up for a bigger fall."

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