This morning, ThinkProgess published a story about a top staffer to Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) who helped the congressman draft a letter to bank regulators, asking them to back off new rules for banks like Goldman Sachs. As we reported, the staffer is a former Goldman Sachs vice president with a history of spinning through the revolving door. (The staffer also had worked for a lobbying firm and for the Securities and Exchange Commission in the last 10 years.) The staffer’s background had not been noticed by the press for months because, as we found, he changed his name from Peter Simonyi to Peter Haller after working for Goldman Sachs.
Haller and Issa’s office did not respond to our requests for comment, but they both provided a statement to TalkingPointsMemo. Haller says he changed his name in 2008 to honor a last request of his grandfather, a Transylvanian who passed away in 1944 and had worked for Miklós Horthy. He further states that his name change was publicly identified on the website of his law firm employer, Brickfield Burchette Ritts & Stone.
ThinkProgress never ascribed any motivation for why Haller changed his name, and we accept his explanation. The basic fact remains, however, that his name change made it difficult to identify him as a former Goldman Sachs VP. So while he worked for Chairman Issa on issues directly assisting a top Goldman Sachs lobbying goal — namely, to weaken new Dodd-Frank regulations — the public was unaware that he previously worked in the compliance division of Goldman. That was the key point of our original post, and it remains unchallenged.
Meanwhile, the Issa public relations machine is firing up, trying to obfuscate the key points of our story. ThinkProgress has learned that Issa communications staffers are furiously contacting reporters asking them to either “retract” our story or not cover it at all. Here’s a look at the Issa press machine:
— The Issa-Daily Caller Press Shop: One of the operatives contacting outlets to ignore our story, DailyCaller communications director Kurt Bardella, is a former press secretary for Issa who left the office in disgrace earlier this year. Another operative, Issa’s deputy press secretary Becca Glover Watkins, happens to be the former spokeswoman for the DailyCaller. The DailyCaller has been keen to defend Issa for months. In March, when we published a story about Issa’s earmarks, a DailyCaller reporter contacted us about a piece he was preparing to dispute the story. However, after we published another follow-up debunking Issa’s and the DailyCaller’s claims, the DailyCaller reporter dropped his attempt to defend Issa.
— Issa Maintains Strong Outreach To Other Right-Wing Press: After the New York Times published its blockbuster story on Issa’s long history of using his congressional work to boost his personal fortune, conservative media leaped to defend him. The Heritage Foundation blog fired off three blog posts attempting to dispute the Times’ reporting, at one point even posting a video trying to dispute a trivial detail that a golf course is not visible from Issa’s property. The video was not clear. However it should be noted that the video is an unlisted item on Issa’s YouTube page, suggesting it was sent privately from Issa’s staff to the Heritage Foundation bloggers.
The New York Times has bought the Issa spin, writing that “the story on Mr. Haller isn’t so scandalous after all.” In fact, Issa still hasn’t answered why he is employing a Goldman Sachs employee to handle key issues impacting the company.
The Project on Government Oversight has identified three more letters from Issa’s office bearing Peter Haller’s name, including one that specifically references Goldman. “If Haller’s name change had not been discovered, would anyone have been able to piece together his history?” POGO asks.
Daily Caller’s Kurt Bardella emails ThinkProgress to adamantly state that he has not been working to pushback against our story. “I have not had a single interaction with a reporter about this story at all,” he told us. “I haven’t even had any discussion with Daily Caller people about this story.”