House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) fired one of the most prominent press secretaries on Capitol Hill today for improperly sharing reporters' emails with the New York Times' Mark Leibovich in connection with a book that the reporter is writing. The news of that the committee was looking into Kurt Bardella's actions was first reported last night by Politico.
In an emailed statement to reporters Tuesday, Issa said that "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."
Bardella was actually a very effective press secretary in terms of getting stories out that the committee wanted to release and that reporters wanted to report. He clearly loved his job and the power and notoriety that came with it, but he put all that at risk with this ethical lapse.
The 27-year-old Bardella had a very unconventional style for a press secretary on Capitol Hill. The idea for most press secretaries is to make their boss the complete focus out front and work to control things behind the scenes. Bardella always seemed to enjoy being right out there with Issa, spoke very informally with his boss, and has been mentioned in the major profiles of the chairman -- which is highly unusual.
The Times called Kurt Bardella Issa's "mini-me." And a recent New Yorker profile of Issa raised eyebrows among the Capitol Hill press corps when Bardella told the reporter that "some people in the press, I think, are just lazy as hell."
Bardella was describing his practice of packaging stories for reporters. That's where he basically would hand reporters relevant documents and a quote and give them an exclusive. Numerous news organizations have published these stories. No matter how small the investigation, the exclusivity makes the story bigger and generates buzz inside the beltway. And Bardella told the New Yorker that some reporters would publish his pitches almost word for word, which he called "embarrassing."
Issa never seemed to mind sharing the spotlight with Bardella, however. In fact, he told the New Yorker that Bardella was his "secret weapon."
Bardella did not return requests for a comment on this story. He posted two comments on Facebook yesterday. The first said "It's the start of what I'm sure will be a memorable week," and the second ,posted shortly after Politico's piece was published, said he was "thankful for good friends."
The question going forward is whether reporters will feel confident sharing information with press secretaries in the same way when they know that their emails could be published or shared with other news organizations. (Leibovich, the Times reporter, is working on a book about the "self-celebration" of Washington DC.) Chairman Issa's statement today concluded by saying that he intends "to finish our review and rebuild any broken trust with the journalists who cover the important work of our committee."