Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, fired one of his top spokesmen Tuesday for allegedly sharing confidential e-mail correspondence with a reporter.
Kurt Bardella was let go when an in-house probe into a report by Politico found that Bardella had shared private e-mails between himself and reporters with Mark Leibovich, a New York Times reporter said to be working on a book about Washington’s political culture.
“I think all of you understand that it should not have been an exception [and] that we had policies in place, [and] had we known about this in advance it wouldn’t have happened,” Issa said. “We didn’t, [and] when we became aware of it I talked to all those involved quickly and we came to this decision, and Kurt’s no longer with the committee.”
In a prepared statement, Issa called Bardella’s actions “highly inappropriate” and “a basic breach of trust with the reporters it was his job to assist.”
The incident is a blow to Issa, the chairman of the committee tasked with overseeing and investigating the federal government. He is the House GOP’s main watchdog of the Obama administration, but this incident forced Issa to investigate and fire a member of his own staff. Bardella was as an aggressive spokesman who was close to the congressman.
Bardella, 27, was known for his ability to get Issa’s name out in the printed and online press, as well as on cable news outlets, to advance Issa’s agenda. But he also drew attention to his own role in Issa’s operation in several profiles of his boss.
In a profile of Issa that appeared in The New York Times in July 2010, titled “Republican Emerges as Obama’s Annoyer-in-Chief,” Bardella is referenced as Issa’s “mini-me.”
According to the article, which Leibovich happened to write, Issa purchased a T-shirt for Bardella that said, “It’s all about me.”
Issa described Bardella as his “secret weapon” in a January New Yorker profile. The piece’s author, Ryan Lizza, wrote that Bardella is “one of the savviest young spokesmen on Capitol Hill, someone who understands the complicated new media environment.”
In the statement, Issa said that he spoke to both Bardella and Leibovich and oversaw a review of the e-mails.
Issa said that Bardella was given permission to cooperate with Leibovich on the book project, but that his actions were not previously known by his supervisors.
Bardella did not have access to sensitive documents, such as internal committee or congressional documents, and the e-mails he allegedly shared were only those between himself and reporters, Issa said.
“[It] is limited to communication involving basically all of you in this room,” said the congressman, speaking in the House Speaker’s Lobby, where several dozen reporters were working.
Bardella was very candid with Lizza about his view of the press, saying that some reporters are “lazy” because they write his pitches verbatim.
“Some people in the press, I think, are just lazy as hell. There are times when I pitch a story and they do it word for word,” he said. “That’s just embarrassing. They’re adjusting to a time that demands less quality and more quantity. And it works to my advantage most of the time, because I think most reporters have liked me packaging things for them.”
Leibovich also has close ties with Mike Allen, the Politico senior writer who noted in the Tuesday morning edition of his “Playbook” newsletter that GOP congressional staffers were “furious” over the e-mail incident.
Allen added that some aides questioned why Issa would need to meet with Leibovich “to decide whether it’s a good idea for the House majority to be secretly shoveling internal documents to an author who has a lucrative contract to expose Washington as incestuous.”
In an April 2010 New York Times Magazine profile of Allen, Leibovich wrote, “I have known Mike Allen for more than a decade. We worked together at The Washington Post, where I spent nine years and where I came to know [Politico editors Jim] VandeHei and [John] Harris. We all have the same friends and run into each other a lot, and I have told them how much I admire what they have achieved at Politico. I like them all.
“In other words, I write this from within the tangled web of ‘the community.’ ”
A spokesman for a group that maintains the anti-Issa website, The Issa Files, said that Bardella’s firing comes as no surprise.
“The fish rots from the head, and clearly Darrell Issa has put together a team that shares his ethically challenged approach to business and politics,” said Dan Newman, a writer for The Issa Files.
—This story was posted at 1:06 p.m. and updated at 5:35 p.m.