MSNBC’s Wagner, HuffPo’s Fineman Mock Contempt of Congress Charges Against Team Obama...But Team Bush?

MSNBC continues to fail to take the IRS targeting scandal seriously. On Thursday’s NOW with Alex Wagner, Ms. Wagner and her guest, Howard Fineman of The Huffington Post, showed their utter disdain for Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and his committee’s ongoing investigation into the scandal.

Wagner took particular offense to Issa’s move to hold IRS official Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress, dismissing it as an attempt to “gum up the government works.” Mocking Issa and his fellow House Republicans, Wagner screeched:

 

Let's find a way to malign government, the people that work in it, to waste time focusing on all these sort of -- the bad parts of it, and in so doing actually make government less efficient and less functional.
 

So it’s a waste of time to focus on the bad parts of government? I guess Wagner would prefer a corrupt, fraudulent government as long as it’s also “efficient” and “functional.” That’s the implication of her statement. She wishes government officials would not have to waste time answering for their abuses of power so that they can get right back to business – like continuing to abuse their power. And if fraud and abuse contribute to a “functional” government – well, then it’s all worth it.

Fineman joined Wagner in maligning Issa’s attempt to hold Lerner in contempt of Congress. The HuffPo editorial director huffed, “It's not only contempt of Congress, it's sort of contempt in general.” Actually, “contempt” is a good word to describe Wagner’s and Fineman’s feelings about Issa and the entire IRS investigation.

Fineman also claimed the investigation was pointless because Issa has no way of imposing real consequences on Lerner without going to the Justice Department – the implication being that the Obama/Holder DOJ will never agree to get involved in this case. That's probably true, but wouldn't that underscore that the Obama administration is interested in circling the wagons around corrupt IRS officials rather than punishing wrongdoing?

The message at MSNBC is clear: resistance to the abuse is futile! There’s nothing you can do about it, so don’t waste your time and let the IRS get back to its abusive practices.

In fact, Fineman saw the contempt-of-Congress motion as just an appeal to the Republican base, arguing:
 

[T]he irony is it doesn't really have any impact anymore as the Republicans use it with the public at large. It just has impact with the people at the grassroots that they're really focusing on in hoping to turn out in an otherwise low-turnout midterm election.
 

Seven years ago, during a Republican administration, MSNBC was singing a different tune regarding holding public officials in contempt of Congress. On the July 2, 2007 episode of Countdown with Keith Olbermann, the host played a clip of Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) saying he would seriously consider holding the Bush White House under contempt of Congress after President Bush commuted Scooter Libby’s sentence during the Valerie Plame scandal. Olbermann and his guest, Dana Milbank of The Washington Post, didn’t bother to push back on this idea. Instead, they went further and talked about whether Bush or Vice President Dick Cheney should be impeached.

Below is a transcript of the NOW with Alex Wagner segment:


ALEX WAGNER: Howard, you know, I don't mean to be too grandiose about this, but this is –

HOWARD FINEMAN: Oh, go ahead.

WAGNER: – but I like doing that. You know, Darrell Issa also held the attorney general in contempt of Congress. And I feel like this is part of this page from the Republican playbook to take sort of procedure and use it to gum up the government works. I mean, he's certainly done that in terms of wasting an inordinate amount of time and money on this investigation which has really turned up nothing as far as I can tell from all the reporting. But it's also this throwing around this contempt of Congress thing. It's almost like the new filibuster. Let's find a way to malign government, the people that work in it, to waste time focusing on all these sort of -- the bad parts of it, and in so doing actually make government less efficient and less functional.

FINEMAN: Yeah, well the key word is ‘contempt.’

WAGNER: Yes.



FINEMAN: It's not only contempt of Congress, it's sort of contempt in general. I think you're absolutely right. And by the way, as grave sounding as that is, in order to have a -- that result in anybody being compelled to testify or face jail or whatever, in other words, the real consequences of that, you have to go to the Justice Department. You know, you're not going to have John Boehner and his bailiff coming down and clapping irons on Lois Lerner. It doesn't work that way. So in many ways it's kind of a showy thing that in the past I think Congress has wanted to avoid for precisely that reason. You don't want to threaten something when you really can't do anything about it.  And it used to be rarely used and sort of grave as a kind of matter of public shaming. But it doesn't have any -- the irony is it doesn't really have any impact anymore as the Republicans use it with the public at large. It just has impact with the people at the grassroots that they're really focusing on in hoping to turn out in an otherwise low turnout midterm election –  hello, look at Florida-13.

[HT: Caleb Howe]

Paul Bremmer
Paul Bremmer is a Media Research Center News Analysis Division intern.