Issa isn’t typically empathetic or restrained. He has accused Lerner of providing false or misleading accounts to Congress in previous conversations with members of Congress. But he accomplished two ends on Wednesday. While the beginning of the hearing and Lerner’s exit made for some drama and headlines, he avoided what could have been a major distraction. (Recall a 1999 oversight hearing where then-Chairman Dan Burton let former White House official Mark Middleton be questioned for more than half an hour after Middleton took the Fifth in an investigation of a Clinton campaign funding controversy. That tactic brought a scathing response from then-ranking member Henry Waxman, who stated in a letter to Burton: “Our investigation has become far better known for its abuses rather than its results.”)
Also, by saying he intends to call Lerner back before the committee, Issa ensured that the story and his committee will stay in the spotlight heading into the Memorial Day recess, when congressional news tends to tamper off.
While the White House is guilty of incompetence and mangling its credibility in recent weeks, and while the IRS admittedly engaged in wildly inappropriate political targeting, nobody has been charged or convicted with a crime.
Congressional and FBI investigators will determine who directed (and knew of) the targeting, but there is no evidence today that it reached into the White House or Obama's campaign. Based on what we know so far, it is incorrect to say the president is "in the middle" of "lawlessness and guerrilla warfare."
It is also irresponsible. And it's bad politics.
Priebus was scheduled to appear Thursday on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" shortly after my appearance on the show so I pointed out the tweet to panelist John Heilemann of New York magazine. He pressed Priebus to clarify. The chairman doubled down.
Some Republican strategists watched in frustration. "When you have your opponent on the ropes, no need to punch below the belt," emailed Republican consultant Reed Galen. "Now is the time to swing to what make the GOP different and better for these times."