A press official at the Department of Justice attempted to coordinate the leak of documents concerning the IRS targeting scandal with Democratic staffers, but accidentally called the wrong office, according to House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa.
The staffer who picked up the phone answered “Oversight Press,” according to Issa’s letter, which was sent to Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday.
Thinking he had reached the office of U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, the Democratic ranking member of the oversight committee, Fallon said that the DOJ’s Office of Legislative Affairs would not okay the release of the documents, but that he was eager to do so anyway “before the Majority” – Issa’s office – could do so.
According to Issa’s letter, the documents concerned former Justice Department attorney Andrew Strelka, who worked with IRS Exempt Director Lois Lerner, who has been accused of unfairly targeting conservative groups.
During his call late Friday, Fallon requested that the office leak the documents to “selected reporters” so that DOJ could comment on their contents.
When the Oversight staffer asked Fallon to email the material, Fallon apparently became flustered, or “audibly shaken.” He put the call on hold, according to Issa’s letter. When Fallon came back on the phone he said that the plan to release the documents was no longer on the table and that the purpose of his call was to patch relations between DOJ and the Republican side of Oversight.
Issa did not buy the explanation.
“This effort to preemptively release incomplete and selectively chosen information undermines the Department’s claims that it is responding in good faith,” Issa wrote to Holder.
“In this day and age, e-mails and other electronic communications are sometimes erroneously shared, but I am nonetheless disturbed to receive confirmation through this incident of 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,” he continued, arguing that it “strains credulity” that the Department of Justice would seek to bridge a partisan divide late on a Friday afternoon.
Issa requested that Holder provide a “detailed explanation” laying out how often DOJ has communicated with Cummings’ Minority staff “to the exclusion of the Majority staff.”
Fallon denied any untoward behavior.
“There is nothing inappropriate about department staff having conversations with both the majority and minority staff as it prepares responses to formal inquiries,” Fallon said in a statement. “That includes conversations between the spokespeople for the department and the committee.”