The saga of the embattled anti-poverty group ACORN has taken a new twist, with the disclosure of a Justice Department opinion that a vote by Congress to cut off all federal funding to the group should not affect contracts signed before it was passed.

A spokesman for the Republicans in Congress has already blasted the decision as "shameful."

According to The New York Times, soon after Congress voted in September, a lawyer for the Department of Housing and Urban Development asked the Justice Department how it should handle pre-existing contracts with ACORN. Much of the money which ACORN receives from the federal government is in the form of HUD grants involving the provision of affordable housing.

In an October 23 memorandum (pdf), which has just been released, Acting Assistant Attorney General David Barron replied that the language of the bill was ambiguous but his opinion was that those contracts could not be breached "where doing so would give rise to contractual liability."

Barron was specifically concerned with "cases where performance has already been completed but payment has not been rendered," which he argued could raise questions of constitutionality if payment was withheld.

Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA), the ranking minority member on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, quickly issued a statement insisting that "the bipartisan intent of Congress was clear -- no more federal dollars should flow to ACORN."

"Taxpayers should not have to continue subsidizing a criminal enterprise that helped Barack Obama get elected president," Issa's statement continued. "The politicization of the Justice Department to payback one of the president’s political allies is shameful and amounts to nothing more than old-fashioned cronyism."

Ironically, Issa's own name has been linked to the politicization of the Bush Justice Department. He was known as a leading antagonist of fired US Attorney Carol Lam, and his leak in May 2006 of a Border Patrol report suggesting that Lam was lax on the smuggling of illegal immigrants was pivotal in justifying her firing a few months later.

Lam was working on the Brent Wilkes corruption case at the time, but the Bush Justice Department denied that had anything to do with her firing.