June 2nd, 2013
11:18 PM ET
9 years ago

IRS controversy turns personal, nasty

(CNN) - An unusually harsh and personal war of words erupted on Sunday, even for the current hyper-partisan atmosphere in Washington, DC, with one of President Obama's top advisers bringing up the 40-year-old criminal record of the Republican congressman leading the investigation into alleged IRS abuses.

"Strong words from Mr Grand Theft Auto and suspected arsonist/insurance swindler," tweeted David Plouffe, the political guru (and unofficial adviser) for President Obama, referring to the chairman of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif.

"And loose ethically today," Plouffe ended his tweet, linking to a story about Issa answering questions on CNN's “State of the Union” with Candy Crowley about the controversy over IRS staffers targeting conservative groups for scrutiny, in which Issa referred to White House press secretary Jay Carney as a "paid liar."

Asked for a response to Plouffe's tweet, Issa's spokesman Frederick Hill told CNN, "Looks like the Chairman hit a nerve today. Hopefully President Obama follows Plouffe on Twitter and may finally see some information from a senior advisor about what's going on at the IRS."

According to a source close to Issa, the congressman thought Plouffe's tweet about allegations against him from 1972 and 1982 particularly below the belt, given that "Rep. Issa has never used his position to investigate President Obama for things before he took office like his land deal with convicted felon Tony Rezko."

Issa using the "L" word - liar - is unusual in a town where pols and members of the media regularly dance around such a direct accusation, preferring words that allow for the possibility of misspeaking or misleading, but not deliberately speaking an untruth. Plouffe's reference to charges and suspicions against Issa from a generation and two generations ago is also unusual in a city where such mentions are considered gauche and uncollegial. (Take, as but two examples, those whose careers managed quite well despite Chappaquiddick and Iran-Contra.)

It began when Issa told Crowley that the White House was misleading the public about the extent of the IRS controversy.

(You can read the entire transcript HERE.)

"Their paid liar, their spokesperson, pictured behind, he's still making up things about what happens in calling this local rogue," Issa said, motioning towards a photograph of Carney on the screen behind Crowley. "The reason the (IRS official) Lois Lerner tried to take the Fifth is not because there is a rogue in Cincinnati, it's because this is a problem that was coordinated in all likelihood right out of Washington headquarters and we're getting to proving it."

These claims were based, Issa said, on interviews with IRS officials conducted by his committee and the House Ways and Means Committee, though as of now no definitive account has been made public establishing that the IRS officials engaged in the targeting of conservative groups, in the Cincinnati office, were doing so at the direction of officials in Washington, D.C.

"The president's spokesperson is saying whatever is convenient at the time and the story changes," Issa told Crowley. "What we have is people coming in to transcribed interviews. They're saying under penalty of crimes that certain things are true. We have subpoenaed documents that would support that, that they say, e-mails that went back and forth. The administration is so far not providing those documents. As we get those documents, as we will get Fast and Furious documents eventually and so on, we will learn the whole truth."

Asked what "lies" Issa was referring to Carney having said, a source close to Issa said "he was most directly referring to Jay Carney's multiple statements placing blame for the IRS scandal on IRS Cincinnati office employees while pointedly omitting the fact that these employees contend their direction came from the D.C. office and have testified to Congress as such. I'm sure that Carney's previous statement about the White House's role in editing the Benghazi talkers being limited to just one technical point was in the back of his mind as well."

Plouffe, however, is clearly interested in another focus, allegations one or two generations old about Issa, not current questions about the IRS and the Obama administration.

Asked what his tweet allegations have to do with whether IRS officials in Cincinnati took direction from officials in Washington, Plouffe told CNN "the credibility and motivation of accusers are valid here."

Republicans suggest that this is part and parcel of the Obama team's modus operandi, that every time a critic begins to succeed, a presidential ally begins to attack his character and change the subject. To, say, 41-year-old charges against a House GOP chairman, ones that were eventually dropped.

Issa, one of the wealthiest members of Congress, is the former owner of a car alarm company - it's his voice that warns would-be burglars "Protected by Viper. Stand back," which you can hear HERE.

Issa once noted to a Washington Post interviewer that "For years, I used to tell everyone that I went into it because my brother was a car thief. Then they found out when I ran for office my brother did spend time in prison as a car thief, and it ruined the whole joke."

In 1972, then-19-year-old Issa too was arrested under suspicion of stealing a car, but Issa claims it was a case of mistaken identity and the charges were ultimately dropped.

In 1982, the office and factory of two companies Issa had purchased, Quantum Enterprises and Steal Stopper International, caught on fire. The insurance company's investigation found "suspicious burn patterns" and company officials noted that in the month before the fire Issa had increased his insurance from $100,000 to $462,000. As the New Yorker's Ryan Lizza noted, the "Ohio state fire marshal never determined the cause of the fire and no one was ever charged with a crime"; Issa and the insurance company settled out of court.

Asked why he brought up Issa's criminal record from 1972 (when the charges were dismissed) and an arson investigation from 21 years ago where no one was charged with a crime, Plouffe told CNN that Issa's "ethics issues are far more recent. Look at ethics complaints filed."

There have been at least three ethics complaints filed against Issa, all from left-leaning groups. Complains filed in and of themselves don't necessarily mean anything, of course. House Ethics Committee or Office of Congressional Ethics judgments are much more important, and as of now there have been none against Issa.

Issa's office says neither the committee nor OCE "has ever contacted the Congressman's office seeking any response or additional information." Issa spokesman Hill called them all "nuisance complaints."

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soundoff (485 Responses)
  1. Fred

    WOW- Dems are getting desperate.

    June 3, 2013 08:06 am at 8:06 am |
  2. A True Conservative

    Wow....from the team that has Bill Ayers on it......the bomber and his bomber wife......but the left doesn't care about that.....

    June 3, 2013 08:06 am at 8:06 am |
  3. leah

    How much tax dollars has Congress wasted by not doing anything but grandstanding for about 12 years now? Probably billions.

    June 3, 2013 08:06 am at 8:06 am |
  4. Michael DeDominic

    This is what they do. There are unfortunately people who believe this slander. No wonder Plouffe has his pantyhose in a twist. This "Administration" has run into someone who wont be intimidated. Issa is a terrier, he wont give up, he will get the truth out. Of course the girls in the WH are having a hissy fit.

    June 3, 2013 08:07 am at 8:07 am |
  5. blue max

    I'm not surprised to hear that the Issa brothers are car thiefs... he always reminded me of a used car salesman. Pure scum.

    June 3, 2013 08:10 am at 8:10 am |
  6. maximusvad

    I ssa is a fine example of the state of the GOP. Dole is right....they need repairs desperately.

    June 3, 2013 08:12 am at 8:12 am |
  7. Az

    Time will tell, it always does. The truth will come out.

    June 3, 2013 08:12 am at 8:12 am |
  8. bobo

    Typical of the Obama Administration...... mock, scorn, and play up their "Enemies" as bad guys to distract from real issues.... All of the charges were either dropped or dismissed... perhaps if Issa was proven GUILTY you can bring this stuff up, but in America you are innocent until proven guilty....

    June 3, 2013 08:14 am at 8:14 am |
  9. Danram

    Typical Obama administration tactic: Try to distract the attention of people away from the real issue by bringing up something sensationalistic that has absolutely nothing to do with it.

    I guess if Darrell Issa's past is fair game, then so is Barack Obama's admitted cocaine use? But no doubt the Obamabots would love that too. Anything to avoid talking about the abuses of a blatantly politicized IRS whgse activities may well have been directed by the White House.

    How else can one explain the fact that the Director of the IRS has visited the White House well over 100 times during Obama's presidency? I love to hear you explanation of these visits, Mr. Plouffe, especially since no other IRS Director has ever seen the need to visit the White House more than a handful of times under any other president.

    It's "the Chigago way", baby!!!

    June 3, 2013 08:15 am at 8:15 am |
  10. truth is good

    Good article that just shows the corruption on both sides. In reality its the same club.

    June 3, 2013 08:16 am at 8:16 am |
  11. ice9load

    Sounds like both sides are "saying whatever is convenient at the time and the story changes". But it does take the focus away from unemployment, runaway healthcare costs and corporate welfare. These are the elephants in the room. So we move from immigration reform, gun control, IRS scandal to avoid facing what is sinking us.

    June 3, 2013 08:19 am at 8:19 am |
  12. Jeb

    Oh look....the GOP found a new witch hunt.

    So much for jobs jobs jobs....

    June 3, 2013 08:21 am at 8:21 am |
  13. nnbrke

    Why are there no share icons (Facebook, Twitter, Email, etc.) shown for this particular blog post?

    June 3, 2013 08:22 am at 8:22 am |
  14. Tooth Fairy

    The Administration doing what they do best, sling mud and play to the base. I predicted that the US would be a bananna republic after Obama and many folks scoffed. Guest who was right.

    June 3, 2013 08:22 am at 8:22 am |
  15. Robert Kirk

    Doesn't anyone notice that it is more in the interest of the Republicans to block the Tea Party? The RNC has lost a lot of power to them. And there was a Republican appointee in charge of the IRS when it happened.

    June 3, 2013 08:23 am at 8:23 am |
  16. The fact of the matter

    Plouffe, like the White House, is merely trying to steer the emphasis away from the crux of the matter. Attempts to change the subject are tantamount to an admission of guilt.

    June 3, 2013 08:23 am at 8:23 am |
  17. bigdoglv

    So the IRS does something that goes against everything our founding fathers believed in, and Issa is the problem? Nice try CNN.

    June 3, 2013 08:24 am at 8:24 am |
  18. Weissdog

    Typical Democrat response when caught with their fingers in the cookie jar – First – Deny. If that doesn't work, then deflect and finally, attack the character of the person making the claim.

    It is textbook and happens every time – think Fast & Furious, Benghazi, heck you can go back to Monicagate with Clinton – same strategy.

    June 3, 2013 08:25 am at 8:25 am |
  19. BILL, WI

    The Dems forgot to mention a troubled teenager who turned his life around. Poor Dems, if you can't dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with BS. Maybe the Dems can explain the letter five Dem U.S. Senators wrote to the IRS requesting a harder look at conservative groups applying for a change in tax exempt status.

    June 3, 2013 08:28 am at 8:28 am |
  20. Thinkergal

    Issa is simply cranky and out-of-sorts because the president is smarter and better-looking than he is. He could do important work on behalf of this nation and its people, but he would rather sling mud and stir up nonsense.

    June 3, 2013 08:28 am at 8:28 am |
  21. David

    Just like Axelrod, poofy has got to be the most disgusting of the Chicago thugs employed by this "thug administration".

    June 3, 2013 08:29 am at 8:29 am |
  22. Questions401

    The investigations are meant to make sure political groups are not claiming nonpolitical tax exempt status... So if you choose a politically charged name you should expect an investigation... I'd be mad if they didn't investigate an organization with a politically charged name filing for nonpolitical tax exempt status... I would also like to point out the only group actually denied tax exempt status was in fact a liberal group...

    June 3, 2013 08:29 am at 8:29 am |
  23. Bob

    Guess it' ok to print up Obama's drug use and hanging out with terrorist.

    June 3, 2013 08:31 am at 8:31 am |
  24. Name Issatabird


    I appreciate your piece, but pretty thinly veneered snark. Perhaps the Post is a better fit for you.

    June 3, 2013 08:31 am at 8:31 am |
  25. Wake up People!

    Well it's about time somebody mentioned dude was a lying criminal himself who has no business sitting in judgment of anybody.

    And btw, this has been personal. Starting back in November 2008.

    June 3, 2013 08:32 am at 8:32 am |
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