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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Among the many reasons that Americans hold the House of Representatives in low repute – at historically abysmal levels, in fact – is the blatantly partisan and ideological misconduct of so many committee chairs. Without any evident embarrassment these mighty politicians deny science, defy mathematics, and dismiss every fact that contradicts their prejudices. But bad as these chairs tend to be, none is quite as flamboyantly awful as Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the Government Oversight Committee, a special investigative panel whose latest effort to conjure scandal from nothingness at the Internal Revenue Service would provoke his removal by a responsible leadership.

As we have pointed out repeatedly in these pages, and as testimony by the IRS inspector general has since confirmed, it is now clear that right-wing groups were not targeted for exceptional scrutiny. Moreover, there was no political motive in the agency’s treatment of the Tea Party and associated groups seeking tax exemption (in many cases illegitimately).

It is now equally obvious that the behavior of Issa himself, with his attempts to skew his committee’s investigation and conceal testimony that exonerated the agency, represents the most serious wrongdoing in the supposed “IRS scandal.” But this isn’t the first time that the California Republican, who happens to be the wealthiest man in Congress, has misused the broad powers of his chairmanship. Actually, that is all he does – as he demonstrated in equally opportunistic and amateurish examinations of both the Benghazi tragedy and the “Fast and Furious” affair.

Issa’s stewardship of the House Government Reform Committee has failed even by the standards of the Republican congressional leadership, which must have hoped that he would have collected some Obama administration scalps by now. He delayed the Fast and Furious probe solely to extend it into the election year, blustered against Attorney General Eric Holder, and accomplished…nothing.

There is little hope that Speaker John Boehner, who has enough problems maintaining a semblance of authority and dignity, will question Issa’s fitness to chair this important committee. But still we are left wondering: What would become of Issa if he were subjected to the Republican style of investigation? What if the presumption of guilt, the preference for insinuation over evidence, the omission of exculpatory facts, and the promulgation of conspiratorial speculations that feature in all of Issa’s theatrical probes were applied to him?

As the richest member of Congress, Issa seems to enjoy the same veneer of respectability that great wealth has provided to many dubious figures. But his past includes several troubling encounters with law enforcement, from alleged car thefts to weapons offenses. So what would the public learn from an Issa-style investigation of Darrell Issa?

First, the committee chair would reveal the troubling findings about Issa, namely that he was arrested not once but twice for illegal weapons offenses. Worse yet, he would explain, Issa had been convicted the second time. Then he would release slightly redacted copies of court records on file in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, where Issa grew up, showing an arrest, charges of auto theft and carrying a concealed weapon only one month after his discharge from the Army in the winter of 1972. Those same records would also reveal that Issa and an older brother were both suspects in the theft of a “new red Maserati sports car” from an auto dealership, and that Issa was eventually indicted for larceny.

And then the committee might leak a second, even more damaging set of records showing that Issa had been picked up several months later on another weapons charge in Michigan, where he attended college. Police arrested him for possession of an unregistered handgun, leading ultimately to his conviction.

What we might not learn – at least not until the facts were excavated by less partisan probers – is that Issa was only 19 years old at the time; that the first set of charges in Ohio was eventually dropped by prosecutors; and that the Michigan charge was a misdemeanor, punishable by a $100 fine. Which young Issa paid.

Yet whatever Issa did as a foolish kid could be made to look quite sinister by a congressional committee chair like him, dedicated to trumping up minor irritations into major scandals. How fortunate he is that nobody in authority has ever misused the investigative power to smear him – and that those currently in authority over him have no appetite for reining in his abuses of that power.

Photo: stanfordcis via flickr.com

Trump speaking at Londonderry, NH rally

Screenshot from YouTube

Donald Trump once again baselessly claimed on Sunday that the COVID-19 pandemic was "going to be over" soon, just hours after his chief of staff suggested the administration was unable to get it under control.

"Now we have the best tests, and we are coming around, we're rounding the turn," Trump said at a campaign rally in Manchester, New Hampshire. "We have the vaccines, we have everything. We're rounding the turn. Even without the vaccines, we're rounding the turn, it's going to be over."

Trump has made similar claims on repeated occasions in the past, stating early on in the pandemic that the coronavirus would go away on its own, then with the return of warmer weather.

That has not happened: Over the past several weeks, multiple states have seen a surge in cases of COVID-19, with some places, including Utah, Texas, and Wisconsin, setting up overflow hospital units to accommodate the rapidly growing number of patients.

Hours earlier on Sunday, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows appeared to contradict Trump, telling CNN that there was no point in trying to curb the spread of the coronavirus because it was, for all intents and purposes, out of their control.

"We are not going to control the pandemic. We are going to control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigation areas," he said. "Because it is a contagious virus, just like the flu."

Meadows doubled own on Monday, telling reporters, "We're going to defeat the virus; we're not going to control it."

"We will try to contain it as best we can, but if you look at the full context of what I was talking about, we need to make sure that we have therapeutics and vaccines, we may need to make sure that when people get sick, that, that they have the kind of therapies that the president of the United States had," he added.Public health experts, including those in Trump's own administration, have made it clear that there are two major things that could curb the pandemic's spread: mask wearing and social distancing.

But Trump has repeatedly undermined both, expressing doubt about the efficacy of masks and repeatedly ignoring social distancing and other safety rules — even when doing so violated local and state laws.

Trump, who recently recovered from COVID-19 himself, openly mocked a reporter on Friday for wearing a mask at the White House — which continues to be a hotspot for the virus and which was the location of a superspreader event late last month that led to dozens of cases. "He's got a mask on that's the largest mask I think I've ever seen. So I don't know if you can hear him," Trump said as his maskless staff laughed alongside him.

At the Manchester rally on Sunday, Trump also bragged of "unbelievable" crowd sizes at his mass campaign events. "There are thousands of people there," he claimed, before bashing former Vice President Joe Biden for holding socially distant campaign events that followed COVID safety protocols.

"They had 42 people," he said of a recent Biden campaign event featuring former President Barack Obama. "He drew flies, did you ever hear the expression?"

Last Monday, Rep. Francis Rooney (R-FL) endorsed Biden's approach to the pandemic as better than Trump's, without "any doubt."

"The more we go down the road resisting masks and distance and tracing and the things that the scientists are telling us, I think the more concerned I get about our management of the COVID situation," he told CNN.

In his final debate against Biden last Thursday, Trump was asked what his plan was to end the pandemic. His answer made it clear that, aside from waiting for a vaccine, he does not have one.

"There is a spike, there was a spike in Florida and it's now gone. There was a very big spike in Texas — it's now gone. There was a spike in Arizona, it is now gone. There are spikes and surges in other places — they will soon be gone," he boasted. "We have a vaccine that is ready and it will be announced within weeks and it's going to be delivered. We have Operation Warp Speed, which is the military is going to distribute the vaccine."

Experts have said a safe vaccine will likely not be ready until the end of the year at the earliest, and that most people will not be able to be vaccinated until next year.

Trump also bragged Sunday that he had been "congratulated by the heads of many countries on what we have been able to do," without laying out any other strategy for going forward.

Nationally, new cases set a single-day record this weekend, with roughly 84,000 people testing positive each day. More than 8.5 million Americans have now contracted the virus and about 225,000 have died.

Trump, by contrast, tweeted on Monday that he has "made tremendous progress" with the virus, while suggesting that it should be illegal for the media to report on it before the election.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.