A recent post suggested the possibility that Toyota could seek to prevent its former attorney, Dimitrios Biller, from disclosing attorney-client privileged documents to Congress in response to a subpoena. Toyota, however, apparently did not attempt to do so, and the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has obtained the responsive documents.
Now a dispute has broken out between the majority and minority regarding the proper interpretation of the documents. Specifically, Republican Ranking Member Darrell Issa has sent this letter to Chairman Edolphus Towns, identifying four specific areas in which Towns and his staff have allegedly mischaracterized the documents received from Biller. Issa’s staff contends that a letter sent by Towns “frequently misquotes and mischaracterizes the underlying material, in one extreme case, actually altering the subject of the underlying document.”
It is not unusual for the majority and minority to find themselves on opposite sides of an investigation, with the majority acting as “prosecutors” and the minority as “defense counsel.” This investigation, however, has been, in Issa’s words, a “successful bipartisan effort” up to this point, and Issa has been just as critical of Toyota as Towns. Issa’s objection is not based on a differing perspective on Toyota’s culpability, but simply on the notion that congressional committees have an obligation to ground their conclusions in a fair reading of the evidence presented to them.
Having no access to the underlying documents, I have no opinion on whether Issa is correct on these specific criticisms. Given the incentives for congressional committees to use investigations as sound-bite generating machines, however, Issa’s admonition is worth highlighting.