Issa pens scathing letter to Cummings as IRS feud escalates

Republican Rep. Darrell Issa has penned a personal, scathing letter to his Democratic counterpart on the House oversight committee, escalating the public feud between the two high-ranking lawmakers amid the committee's investigation into IRS targeting.

The letter to Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., top Democrat on that committee, was obtained by Fox News. In it, Issa countered, point by point, a series of claims that Cummings and two legal experts made earlier this week about whether former IRS official Lois Lerner could be held in contempt for refusing to testify.

Issa went further, effectively accusing Cummings of running interference on behalf of his party and the administration.

"... rather than pursuing the facts where they lead -- which is the function of effective congressional oversight -- you have made yourself an obstacle  to effective congressional oversight, in effect, a defense counsel for Lerner and others who acted to deprive Americans of their constitutionally-guaranteed rights," the committee chairman wrote.

In another verbal sting, he continued: "Even though the White House helped orchestrate your ascension to Ranking Member, I have encouraged, and continue to encourage, you to subordinate your political loyalties to the institutional interests of the Committee and the House, especially in cases like this where obstructing the Committee's work risks permanently disadvantaging Congress in its interactions with the Executive Branch."

Lerner last week invoked the Fifth Amendment for the second time, leading Issa to weigh whether to pursue contempt proceedings. Cummings had cited "expert" opinion earlier this week in claiming Issa actually could not hold her in contempt because of his actions at that hearing.

Issa and Cummings had a very public blow-up at the hearing, as Issa cut off Cummings' microphone and shut the hearing down.

Cummings and the legal experts argued that Issa erred by cutting the hearing short without first overruling Lerner's Fifth Amendment claim and directing her to answer the committee's questions. They argued he "forfeited" the ability to recall her. They argued that any claim that Lerner had previously waived her Fifth Amendment rights -- which is what Republicans contend -- is no longer valid.

Issa called this analysis "wrong on the facts and the law."

Repeatedly in the letter, Issa used the derisive phrase "you and your lawyers and consultants," a phrase not heard often on Capitol Hill.

Since last week, Cummings and other Democrats have forcefully objected to Issa's actions at the hearing, meant to investigate IRS targeting of conservative groups. Issa personally apologized to Cummings last week, but the two have continued to criticize each other publicly.

House Democrats on Thursday tried to call up a resolution requiring Issa to formally apologize, but Republicans tabled it. House Republicans last week blocked a different Democrat-backed resolution to chastise Issa.

Fox News' Chad Pergram contributed to this report.