A senior communications aide to Attorney General Eric Holder seemingly called House oversight committee chairman Darrell Issa’s staff by accident and asked for their help spinning new revelations about the IRS scandal, Issa said in a September 8 letter to Holder.
The aide, Brian Fallon, is a former senior aide to Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and a well-known personality on Capitol Hill. The letter describes Fallon as “audibly shaken” when he realizes his request to leak documents to help get ahead of news stories about them was mistakenly made to the very office he was seeking to undermine. Issa believes the call was intended to be made to Democratic Rep. Elijah Cumming’s staff, the ranking member on the oversight panel, the letter said.
According to the letter, Fallon – who is not named in the letter but confirmed he made the call – asked if the aides could release the IRS scandal documents to “selected reporters” to give Fallon an “opportunity to comment publicly on it.”
Fallon explained to Issa aides that the Justice Department’s Office of Legislative Affairs had not permitted him to release the documents to the public and he wanted to get ahead of the story “before the Majority” – meaning Issa – could share it, according to the letter.
Issa aides – who had placed the call on speakerphone – were “caught off guard by the unusual nature of the call and the odd request” and asked Fallon to “e-mail the material for evaluation.”
“At this point,” Fallon “abruptly placed the call on hold for approximately three minutes.” When Fallon returned to the call, “he was audibly shaken. He immediately stated that there was a ‘change in plans’ and that there would be no effort” by DOJ to release the material early.
Fallon “proceeded to pitch the idea that the Department and the Committee should ‘help one another’ while simultaneously saying that ‘you need to say what you need to say.'”
In the letter, Issa told Holder the phone call suggests ongoing coordination between DOJ aides and Cummings’ staff to undermine oversight committee investigations.
Fallon’s “efforts to prejudice the Committee’s oversight work demands examination,” Issa wrote.
Fallon, however, said in a written statement that nothing untoward occurred.
“There is nothing inappropriate about department staff having conversations with both the majority and minority staff as they prepare responses to formal inquiries. That includes conversations between the spokespeople for the Department and the committee,” Fallon said.
Other than confirming he made the phone call in question, Fallon did not respond to any of the details of what took place during the call.
The letter referred to a “subsequent explanation” from Fallon that “he simply called to improve the Office of Public Affairs’ working relationship with the Committee” but said the explanation “is inconsistent with statements and requests he made before he placed the call on hold.”
“It strains credulity to believe that the Department would seek to begin to improve relations via a telephone call between two individuals who had never spoken to each other before at 5:01pm on a Friday afternoon at the end of a District Work Period in the waning days of the 113th Congress,” Issa wrote.
Issa said he is “disturbed” by the “apparently longstanding collaboration between the Obama administration and Ranking Member Cummings’ staff to obfuscate and prejudice the Committee’s work through under-the-table coordination.”
At the outset of the 112th Congress, when Republicans had just taken control of the House, Democrats forced former Rep. Edolphus Towns to step down as ranking member for fear that Issa would run roughshod over him. Since then, Cummings is widely considered to have done an effective job pushing back against Issa-led investigations.
In many cases, documents provided to congressional committees by the White House and administration are preemptively leaked to the media as they are being released to Congress. Called the “document dump,” the practise frequently occurs on Friday afternoons to help mitigate the political damage from the news contained in the documents.