House Oversight Committee Fires Spokesman

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House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa today said he has fired his deputy communications director and spokesman Kurt Bardella for inappropriately sharing e-mail correspondences with a New York Times reporter, as Politico first reported last night. From Issa’s statement:

“While our review of allegations raised by Politico is not yet complete, it has become clear that the committee’s Deputy Communications Director Kurt Bardella did share reporter e-mail correspondence with New York Times journalist  Mark Leibovich for a book project.  Though limited, these actions were highly inappropriate, a basic breach of trust with the reporters it was his job to assist, and inconsistent with established communications office policies.  As a consequence, his employment has been terminated.

“After hearing Kurt’s account, speaking with Mark Leibovich, and an initial review of e-mail correspondence there is no evidence to support speculation that internal committee or congressional documents or conversations were inappropriately shared, that Mark Leibovich ever inappropriately heard or recorded any phone conversation, or that any official rule violations occurred.  The inappropriate information shared with Mark Leibovich appears to have been limited to Kurt’s own correspondence with reporters.

Leibovich is writing a book due out in 2012 about “Washington’s culture of self-love.” (Full disclosure, it’s being edited by former TIME editor Priscilla Painton.)

The scandal has made waves in Washington for two reasons. One, the reporter/spokesman relationship is generally pretty sacrosanct. Reporters often willingly go to jail to protect their sources and expect their sources to equally guard any correspondence. Without that trust the entire Washington system, as flawed as it is, collapses. Secondly, this is a committee that has subpoenas out to the Administration and private companies. It deals with highly sensitive documents. Reporters’ emails are the least damaging thing Bardella could’ve leaked and Issa must now fully investigate that nothing else was disclosed. More from Issa’s statement:

“In November 2010, Kurt did seek permission from his supervisors to participate in a book project with Mr. Leibovich.  His request was granted, but nothing that he described to his supervisors ever included the indication, intent, or possibility that he would be sharing reporter e-mail correspondence with Leibovich for his book.  Kurt’s supervisors, including the committee’s Director of Communications Frederick Hill have told me that they did not learn about what Kurt was doing with reporter correspondence until the committee was first contacted by Politico last Friday evening.  I have not found or heard anything, including Kurt’s own account, which contradicts these explanations.

“In explaining his intentions in participating in Mark Leibovich’s book, Kurt has told me he saw this as an opportunity to contribute a narrative about what a press secretary does on Capitol Hill and was not about offering salacious details designed to settle scores or embarrass anyone.   My review of materials thus far supports that characterization.

“I intend to finish our review and rebuild any broken trust with the journalists who cover the important work of our committee.”

In hindsight there were some warning signs. Bardella, 27, was anything but discrete in Ryan Lizza’ New Yorker profile of Issa. And he got into trouble with The Daily Beast’s Howard Kurtz when Kurtz mistook an interview with Bardella for an interview with Issa, correcting the record months later.

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