Darrell Issa investigating committee spokesman regarding e-mails
Updated 11:00 p.m.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House oversight committee, has launched an investigation into whether a communications aide improperly shared e-mails from reporters with another journalist who is writing a book.
Issa's communications director, Frederick Hill, confirmed that the congressman will look into "concerns" raised by Politico's editor-in-chief. In the meantime, press secretary Kurt Bardella remains on staff and is expected to report for work Tuesday, Hill said.
The investigation puts Issa, who as House oversight chairman has the power to investigate and subpoena administration officials, in the unusual position of turning his scrutiny on a member of his own office.
Bardella, 27, has served as an Issa spokesman since January 2009; he previously handled communications for Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-Calif.) and Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine). Known as a rising star on Capitol Hill, Bardella was described by his boss in a recent New Yorker profile of Issa as "my secret weapon;" in the same profile, Bardella said that his goal is "to make Darrell Issa an actual political figure."
Politico reported Monday night that its editor-in-chief, John F. Harris, wrote Issa on Sunday to express concern that Bardella may have been secretly copying New York Times reporter Mark Leibovich on correspondence with other journalists.
Leibovich -- like Harris, a former Washington Post reporter -- is writing a book on Washington's political culture. It is unclear how the alleged e-mails came to Harris's attention.
"The practice of sharing reporter e-mails with another journalist on a clandestine basis would be egregiously unprofessional under any circumstances," Harris wrote Issa. He pointed to "information suggesting" that reporters from Politico and other publications "may have had their reporting compromised by this activity."
Asked by Politico on Monday afternoon to elaborate on his communications with Leibovich, Bardella declined to go into detail. "Am I bcc'ing him on every e-mail I send out? Of course not," Bardella told the publication, before adding, "I'm not going to get into the details of proprietary conversations about Mark's project. I'm not."
Issa told Politico on Monday that Bardella had assured him that he "does not share information between one reporter and another." But the congressman said he wanted to speak to Leibovich personally on Wednesday to ascertain "what kind of cooperation he was expecting."
Bardella's "collaboration with the book author is what I want to get to the bottom of," Issa said.
As of late Monday afternoon, Politico reported, Leibovich said he had not heard from Issa or his staff. Leibovich declined to comment to The Post.
The investigation into one of his own staffers comes at a highly sensitive time for Issa.
Two weeks ago he subpoenaed Countrywide Financial Corp.'s parent company, Bank of America, to turn over all records related to a VIP mortgage service that Countrywide provided to thousands of prominent figures, including members of Congress and members of the Bush administration's cabinet.
At the same time he also issued his first subpoenas to the Obama administration, demanding that the Department of Homeland Security turn over documents related to requests under the Freedom of Information Act.
Issa's profile increased dramatically in the months leading up to the November elections, which propelled the Republicans into the House majority and turned the former back-bench congressman with a large, but until then, unfulfilled ambition into one of the most powerful chairmen on Capitol Hill.
Once Republicans took control of the House, Bardella shifted his work into projecting a less-aggressive image for Issa.
Even so, the aide was embroiled in another controversy last month: Howard Kurtz, a former Washington Post media critic who now writes for the Daily Beast, revealed that he had conducted an interview with Bardella during which he thought he was actually speaking with Issa.
Kurtz published the interview as though he had spoken with Issa; Bardella wrote a note the next day to point out the error, according to Kurtz. (Kurtz did not publish a correction until six weeks later, after the author of the New Yorker profile, Ryan Lizza, had apparently "gotten wind" of the mistake from Bardella.)
Bardella did not return a call for comment Monday on Politico's report. After Politico published its story about the Issa investigation Monday night, Bardella updated his Facebook status to say, "thankful for good friends ..."
-- Staff writer Ed O'Keefe contributed to this report.
Felicia Sonmez and Paul Kane
| February 28, 2011; 9:11 PM ET
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