Darrell Issa bails on FCIC hearing after reality “didn’t fit the narrative”

With no warning or fanfare, today's scheduled Oversight subcommittee hearing on the Financial Crisis Inquiry Committee was cancelled earlier this week. But a picture is beginning to emerge as to what went wrong for Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa and why the plug was pulled.

Peter Kadzick, an attorney for FCIC Chairman Phil Angelides, told TPM that Angelides arrived in D.C. on Sunday night for the Wednesday morning hearing but was told by an Issa staffer on Monday evening that "they had found some documents at the last minute that didn't fit the narrative."

And a devastating new report (pdf) from committee Democrats found that those documents didn't just not "fit the narrative," but outright refuted them. Ranking committee Democrat Elijah "Cummings's report, which is based on 400,000 internal Commission emails, memos and other documents, finds that Chairman Issa's allegations are largely unsubstantiated.  

In contrast, the documents suggest that Republican Commissioners geared their efforts on the Commission toward helping House Republicans in their campaign to repeal the Dodd-Frank Act, rather than determining the facts that led to the economic crisis. The report also raises a host of new ethical questions about Republican Commissioners and staff, including evidence that they leaked confidential information to outside parties on multiple occasions."

If the hearing had been cancelled on Monday, it didn't slow Issa down Tuesday. Issa was on Twitter yesterday enthusiastically pushing attacks on the FCIC's findings, specifically from Republican FCIC member Peter Wallison. But the report from committee Democrats highlights a number of credibility problems for Wallison and other FCIC Republicans who dissented from its findings and have fueled Issa's pursuit. As Media Matters breaks down:

  • Wallison repeatedly sent emails to his GOP colleagues on the committee urging that their dissents not "undermine the ability of the new House GOP to modify or repeal Dodd-Frank."
  • Despite claims to the contrary that Wallison made in congressional testimony, the FCIC extensively reviewed his position that the economic crisis was caused by government housing policies, with all eight other commissioners rejecting that view.
  • Wallison was criticized by the FCIC's general counsel after leaking confidential commission documents to a colleague at the American Enterprise Institute in violation of the commission's ethics policy.
  • Republican vice chairman Bill Thomas and his staff provided an economic and political consultant who works at Thomas' law firm — which represents major banks — with a wide array of internal documents, in violation of the commission's ethics policy.

This isn't the first time that we've seen this sort of thing from the FCIC Republicans. Last year, they all voted to ban the terms "Wall Street," "shadow banking," "interconnection," and "deregulation" from the final FCIC report, and several of the committee Republicans had well-established conflicts of interest. But Issa has consistently criticized the FCIC findings, demanding a wide range of emails and other records because, as an Issa spokesperson explained, "Mr Issa says he wants to check that taxpayers got value for money in the investigation and to examine any potential conflicts of interest." Today's new report suggests a wide range of potential conflicts of interest, ethics violations, and congressional testimony that may have been purposely false, but the hearing is cancelled.

In the previous six months, Issa and other committee Republicans have repeatedly accused officials in the Obama administration of perjury or intent to commit perjury for as much or less than is included in this report. Issa's own staff released a sealed document in an ongoing federal criminal investigation, violating a court order. Now equipped with well-documented analysis of sweeping concerns over the behavior of Republican FCIC members, what will Issa do?

Immediately following the election last November that swept Republicans into a House Majority, Issa pledged to investigate financial issues regardless of party or partisanship. And he gave an interview in which he declared tougher standards for Wall Street:

Wall Street will have to accept a new level of scrutiny and demands for transparency for how they make decisions and the impact those decisions have on the economy. Main Street will hopefully benefit from this new degree of openness and accountability and I will continue to fight for their right to know.

Main Street's right to know relies on the accountability that the Oversight Committee exists to provide. If there were multiple ethics violations, inaccurate statements in Congressional testimony, and direct efforts of FCIC members to aid congressional Republicans, it strains credulity to imagine that the final report and its impact haven't been undermined to an important degree. It's the responsibility of Issa and the Oversight Committee to find out.

Issa recently said that he wanted to do more and better after his first six months running the Oversight Committee. In light of the revelations in this new report, the FCIC hearing could have been among of the most substantive and important of Issa's tenure. Instead, because reality "didn't fit the narrative," the hearing has been called off and thus far not rescheduled. Hopefully Issa will not dodge the issue entirely because it doesn't fit the narrative.

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