Cummings??? ???McCarthyism??? charge in Lerner hearing is bogus

Five plus decades after he left the national scene, Sen. Joe McCarthy (R-Wis) remains the target of inaccurate charges by leftward elements in Congress and the press corps.

The latest example in this vein is the uproar over IRS official Lois Lerner, who took the Fifth Amendment before the House Government Oversight Committee, chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), concerning hostile treatment of conservative groups seeking tax exemptions,. Having proclaimed her innocence of wrongdoing, Lerner then refused to discuss specifics, pleading possible self-incrimination.

This led Issa and his GOP colleagues to cite Lerner for contempt, causing an angry outcry by Maryland???s Elijah Cummings, ranking minority member of the Committee, and other Democrats on the panel. Cummings and Co. have denounced Issa for ???McCarthyism,??? linking the citation of Lerner to the alleged actions of McCarthy back in the 1950s.

Specifically noted by the Democrats and their media allies is the case of a  McCarthy witness  who likewise claimed the Fifth Amendment and got cited for contempt by vote of the US Senate. The witness, Diantha Hoag, had worked on defense-related projects for a government supplier, and thus got called in a McCarthy inquest into potential Soviet espionage at such installations.

Like Lerner, Hoag denied wrongdoing but then refused to answer questions about possible Red activity or people allegedly involved in espionage operations. For this refusal she was cited by the Senate for contempt and indicted by a US grand jury ,but eventually got acquitted in a Federal court decision.

This legal background has triggered an orgy of ???McCarthyism??? denunciations by House Democrats and media liberals, saying Issa by citing Lerner for contempt is following in the footsteps of McCarthy. Cummings condemns Issa for ???efforts to re-create the Oversight Committee in Joe McCarthy???s image,??? allegedly reverting to an era when sanctions for Fifth Amendment pleading were ???a disgraceful stain on our nation???s history. ???Various of his Democratic colleagues say the same.

The identical message has been pounded home by leftward press outlets. Dana Milbank of the Washington Post recites a litany of Democratic charges about McCarthyism redux under Issa (???brings us right back to the McCarthy era,??? things not seen ???since the days of Joe McCarthy.???) The Huffington Post references the case of Hoag, ???when McCarthy attempted to compel her testimony through the courts,??? and says Issa by his pursuit of Lerner could be ???putting himself in the unsavory company of McCarthy.???

All of which, as the historical record shows, is a typical leftward mix of bias, ignorance, and bad reporting.

By far the most important thing to note about this ???McCarthyism??? ruckus is that it???s an obvious effort to obscure the real issue in the present day dispute: that Lois Lerner — and those above her ??? are stonewalling on the political abuses of the IRS, which Lerner herself has admitted were improper, and which she now argues may embroil her in a criminal prosecution.

Beyond this, the ???McCarthyism??? plaints of the Democrats and their press allies are inaccurate as to the history of the 1950s ??? no novelty in the polemics of the left. As it happens, in the case of Diantha Hoag  it wasn???t McCarthy who pursued her in the courts, and in the upshot didn???t even vote to pursue her on the floor of the Senate. The contempt citation against her was in fact the work of Senate Democrats, who had the power to go after Hoag, or not, and made the decision to do so.

The reason for this seemingly strange turn of events was that between Hoag???s testimony to the McCarthy Committee (August 1954) and her official citation for contempt (February 1955), the Democrats won the mid-term elections of 1954, and thus took control of the Senate and its committees.  McCarthy relinquished chairmanship of his committee to senior Senate Democrat John McClellan of Arkansas, who named as his chief counsel the Democratic Attorney-general-to-be, Robert F. Kennedy.

The new majority leader of the Senate, with the power to say yea or nay on contempt citations, was Democratic Sen. Lyndon Johnson of Texas (recently acclaimed by President Barak Obama as one of the great legislative geniuses in our history.)

Thus, when it came time to cite Diantha Hoag for contempt, the authority to do so rested not with Joe McCarthy, but with the Democratic power structure in the Senate. McCarthy as one of his final acts as chairman passed on the recommendation of his full committees that she be cited, but it was up to the Democrats to take official action. They would quickly decide to do so.

Accordingly, on February 4, 1955, Democratic Sen. Earl Clements of Kentucky, a top lieutenant to Lyndon Johnson and wheelhorse of the Democratic Party (chairman of its senatorial campaign committee) moved to cite Hoag officially for contempt, a motion adopted by voice vote with no dissent recorded. We know, however, that Joe McCarthy conspicuously didn???t vote for the motion, as his absence from the floor that day was explicitly noted by one of his colleagues.

It thus develops that the supposedly tremendous outrage from the 1950s being denounced by House Democrats as ???McCarthyism??? was chiefly the work of their own political party. So we have here a case exceeding the usual charges of hypocrisy in such disputes, as the Democrats not only did something similar to what they are deploring, but were responsible for the very act they now describe as evil.

From which it further develops that the ???unsavory company??? in which Darrell Issa finds himself today includes such eminent Democrats as Lyndon Johnson, Robert Kennedy, Earl Clements and John McClellan.

Of course, no one would expect liberal media outlets to know any of this, as that would require some familiarity with the subject matter and some study of the historical record. But one wonders how Rep. Cummings, a senior member of the House with legislative researchers at his disposal, could let himself be hung out to dry in such embarrassing fashion.