Left-leaning ethics group fingers Issa for releasing Fast and Furious wiretap application

Matthew Boyle Investigative Reporter
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Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a left-leaning government watchdog group partially funded by billionaire George Soros, is accusing House oversight committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa of illegal activity by releasing Operation Fast and Furious wiretap application documents into the congressional record.

CREW executive director Melanie Sloan wrote to both Attorney General Eric Holder’s Department of Justice and the Office of Congressional Ethics calling for an investigation into how Issa released the document that proves that senior Department of Justice officials both knew about and approved gunwalking in Fast and Furious.

A spokesperson for Issa’s House oversight committee told The Daily Caller that these complaints are yet more evidence that CREW is hardly a non-partisan, fair organization — and that CREW is now making itself complicit in the Operation Fast and Furious cover-up by getting involved in this scandal in this manner.

“It is shameful that an organization purporting to support good and transparent government is instead making itself complicit in an effort to cover-up a reckless government effort that contributed to the death of a Border Patrol agent,” the spokesperson said. “While CREW’s liberal leanings and dependence on anonymous donors have long been known, this latest action further exposes the naked partisan nature of an organization run by Democratic operatives.”

Even though the wiretap application document proves senior DOJ officials approved gunwalking — and Sloan runs a self-proclaimed pro-transparency, pro-good government organization — she told The Daily Caller she hasn’t even read the damning document.

“I haven’t spent time reviewing the actual material,” Sloan said. “I’m more interested in how a member of Congress did something illegal.”

When TheDC asked her again — just to make sure — if she read the three-page wiretap document in the congressional record that prompted her to write two letters totaling 31 pages demanding Issa be censured in some way, she said she didn’t. “No, I didn’t,” Sloan said. “Obviously, I read the press clips that we cite.”

Sloan doesn’t, however, think the wiretap application document she didn’t read “shows the attorney general misled Congress. I think it says that there are people who may have been aware [of gunwalking].”

Releasing a court-sealed document before a judge unseals it is illegal. But the Constitution’s “speech or debate clause” protects Issa from being prosecuted for it by Holder’s Justice Department.

Speaking of members of Congress, the Constitution reads, “for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place.” The clause has been used to protect members of the legislature from investigation by the executive branch.

While Sloan admits Issa is protected by that clause, she argues that a story that Roll Call’s Jonathan Strong wrote the day after Holder was voted into both criminal and civil contempt of Congress — the floor debate of which was where Issa inserted into the wiretap application into the congressional record — appeared fairly quickly.

Sloan thinks Issa or his staff tipped Strong off to the document in the congressional record. If that’s the case, Sloan argues that Issa might lose the protection of the speech or debate clause because she thinks it’d be “republication” of the document.

Sloan told TheDC that CREW doesn’t have any evidence to suggest that Issa or his staff called any reporters — including Strong — to plant the story after he put the document in the congressional record, and that her group is basing the complaint on pure speculation.

“It’s not as if Issa was previously putting information regarding Fast and Furious in the congressional record,” Sloan said in a phone interview. “Jonathan Strong had a story pretty fast because he was tweeting, as we put in our letter to the Justice Department, he had a tweet at 9 in the morning.”

When pressed on whether Strong could have dug through the document on his own, Sloan said “he may have.”

“I’m not saying that he didn’t, but it seems like an abnormal way to go about an investigation,” Sloan said. “Clearly, there isn’t any question that Issa did it to avoid prosecution by shielding himself by the speech or debate clause because that’s really the reason why you’d do that.”

“Our point is it’s clearly illegal to release information like this, and you open yourself up to contempt charge if you do it,” she added. “If you release it into the congressional record, the speech or debate clause will protect you from prosecution. But the clause does not protect you from House disciplinary action.”

Sloan said that for the Office of Congressional Ethics complaint, it doesn’t matter “whether or not a reporter was tipped off.”

“For the ethics investigation, the main point is: you took information that was under seal and you disclosed it,” she said.

“If there are laws and ways that we have in accessing public documents, then those laws need to be upheld and certainly members of Congress are people who are violating them,” Sloan said in explaining her group’s complaints against Issa.

As for the Justice Department complaint, Sloan said she doesn’t “think it’ll ever happen.”

“Given the political climate, while I think Justice should investigate, they’re not going to prosecute this,” she said.

But, Sloan said, “I think that OCE [Office of Congressional Ethics] will do something about it.”

Strong was unavailable for comment for this story.

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