On September 13th, Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) won an award he’d probably love to be able to decline. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a non-profit legal watchdog group dedicated to holding public officials accountable for their actions, gave Issa a Dishonorable Mention in its 8th annual Most Corrupt Members of Congress report.
CREW cites Issa for illegally revealing confidential information from a sealed wiretap in the Congressional Record — while leading a politically-motivated witch hunt intended to hurt Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder — and then shielding himself from reproach and censure by claiming that he, as a member of Congress, had constitutional protections for his unethical actions.
As CREW explains, “Rep. Issa [...] knew that by inserting the information in the Congressional Record, he would be immune from prosecution under the Constitution’s Speech or Debate clause, which protects members of Congress for remarks and actions that fall within the legislative sphere.” Federal law dictates that wiretap applications can only be disclosed after acquiring permission from a judge, and anyone breaking this law can be held in contempt.
The irony here is that the House of Representatives — with Issa leading the charge — were at that time (June, 2012) actively debating whether or not the attorney general — due to the botched Operation Fast and Furious, run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (informally known as the ATF) — should be held in contempt. Wait, what?
A CREW spokesperson explains, “The Department of Justice and the House Ethics Committee should make clear they won’t stand for attempts to do an end-run around the law by conducting thorough investigations. Rep. Issa’s actions are all the more egregious given that he has urged more aggressive prosecution of those who leak confidential government information.”
CREW also noted, “CREW is no defender of DOJ. We are on record as condemning the ineffective and flawed investigations carried out by the Public Integrity Section of the Criminal Division, under the leadership of Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer. But, as CREW pointed out in a June 22, 2012 letter to Mr. Issa, his committee’s vote to hold Attorney General Holder in contempt constituted an abuse of its powers and made clear Mr. Issa and his committee are not pursuing legitimate oversight, but instead are pursuing a partisan political agenda.”
Ian Millhiser at Think Progress elaborates:
For nearly two years, House Oversight Chair Darrell Issa (R-CA) has tried to exploit the tragedy of a series of botched gun stings that led to a federal law enforcement agent’s death in order to score political points against Attorney General Eric Holder. The gun stings that are the focus of Issa’s witchhunt against Holder began when George W. Bush was president and Holder was an attorney in private practice. Nevertheless, Issa eventually forced the House Republican leadership to hold a contempt of Congress vote against Holder, although the leaders buried that vote on the same day that the Affordable Care Act was upheld in a likely attempt to prevent Issa’s witchhunt from receiving much media coverage. After numerous hearings and, of course, the contempt vote, the Department of Justice’s inspector general released a 471 page report that cleared Holder of any wrongdoing. [...]
Issa’s continued efforts to politicize this tragedy come at a very real cost: “When Issa drags Holder before a House committee for four hours to be nothing more than a pawn in an elaborate game set up to embarrass President Obama, that means many more hours — most likely days — that Holder and other key Justice Department officials must spent prepping for their role in Issa’s withhunt. Every minute they spend preparing for this witchhunt is a minute they cannot spend ensuring that the law is fairly enforced, that national security officials in DOJ have the tools they need to operate, or that dangerous criminals are tracked down and prosecuted.”
[The] Inspector General report was no whitewash. It recommended discipline against 14 DOJ officials and found “a pattern of serious failures” associated with the gun stings. In other words, it proves that Holder’s Justice Department is fully capable of examining its own dirty laundry and determining which officials need to be disciplined or removed because they performed their job poorly. Issa’s witchhunt does little more than distract from this important effort.
As Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government, Issa has unlimited subpoena power (as the New Yorker put it, “the power to subpoena, investigate, and harass the Obama Administration”) and seems eager to employ it liberally (no pun intended), but he is less than enthusiastic about complying with any subpoenas himself. Jennifer Bendery at the Huffington Post detailed how Issa seems immune to recognizing irony and hypocrisy on a habitual basis:
In his role as chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Issa has been pressing Holder on the necessity of subpoena compliance since October 2011. [...] Holder has since turned over 7,600 pages of documents in 46 separate dumps and, since January 2011, has testified to Congress on the issue seven times. But Issa has charged that Holder is not fully complying with the subpoena and, earlier this month, threatened to hold him in contempt of Congress if he did not produce more documents.
[For] all his talk about the necessity of subpoena compliance, Issa does not seem willing to apply that standard to himself. The California Republican confirmed to Roll Call earlier this month that he has been subpoenaed in a trial involving retired baseball star Roger Clemens, who is accused of lying about steroid use during a 2008 hearing before Issa’s committee. [...] Lawyers for Issa responded to Clemens’ attorneys with a 47-page explanation as to why Issa does not have to comply with their subpoenas. The gist of their reasoning? He’s too important, there’s nothing unique about his perspective and it would require too much effort. [...] For all these reasons, “the subpoenas directed to Chairman Issa and the Committee should be quashed,” Issa’s lawyers conclude.
It’s not the first time Issa has refused to comply with subpoenas. In September 2007, Issa was one of about a dozen House lawmakers who would not comply with a subpoena in the Duke Cunningham bribery case because, they said, the subpoena was “too vague.” Issa was among those who “said in statements that they would not comply with the subpoenas on advice from House counsel, who is advising them on the matter. [...] A Democratic source familiar with the activities of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee trashed Issa for the double standard. “Only in Washington can you find a Congressman upset that DOJ won’t comply with a subpoena [while also] refusing to comply with subpoenas,” the source said in an email.
CREW adds, “The only possible conclusion to be drawn is that the committee was seeking fodder for a political agenda to embarrass the attorney general and, through him, President Barack Obama. Had Mr. Issa awaited the IG report, produced only a few short months later, this confrontation could have been avoided. As Mr. Issa and his committee have acknowledged, the almost-500-page report is fair and comprehensive, and adds to the voluminous evidence the committee now has to evaluate the bona fides of the Fast and Furious Operation. Mr. Issa’s reckless rush to judgment demonstrates it is he who should bear the moniker “Fast and Furious.””
The most ridiculous part of this whole story is how it managed to shine a spotlight on Issa’s own questionable character and background, not Eric Holder’s or Barack Obama’s. The New Yorker printed a devastating story on Darrell Issa in January 2011 which claimed that Issa was not only possibly the richest member of Congress (his bucks were made selling car alarms; as the New Yorker put it, “Directed Electronics, Inc. shared Issa’s initials and his voice, which he recorded for the company’s signature product, the Viper, an alarm that warns potential car thieves (as well as passing trucks and bursts of wind), ‘Please step away from the car.’”), but he was also allegedly guilty of being an arsonist and a a car thief (his stolen car inventory supposedly included a red Maserati — can’t claim the guy has cheap taste). The New Yorker article went on to describe Issa pulling guns on people at this place of business and being caught with an eye-poppingly large cache of weapons of all types (Issa is convicted felon, found guilty of illegal weapons possession), and to accuse him of being involved in many other questionable business deals and fraudulent schemes.
Some choice quotes from Ryan Lizza in the New Yorker article (which I recommend):
Issa’s checkered past: “In 1997, [Issa] decided to run for the United States Senate. His impressive background—working-class high-school dropout, Army officer who helped protect the President, and self-made high-tech tycoon interested in law and order—helped him attract some of the best campaign operatives in California. [...] Issa didn’t even win the Republican primary. Although he outspent his main opponent, Matt Fong, the state treasurer, by some nine million dollars, he lost by five points. His campaign fell apart after a burst of investigative reporting raised serious questions about his honesty and his past. Many politicians have committed indiscretions in earlier years: maybe they had an affair or hired an illegal immigrant as a nanny. Issa, it turned out, had, among other things, been indicted for stealing a car, arrested for carrying a concealed weapon, and accused by former associates of burning down a building.”
Issa the arsonist: “A lieutenant in the Maple Heights Fire Department noted in his incident report that the “cause of this fire [at Issa's company] appears to be electrical.” [...] Fortunately for Issa, he had recently increased his fire insurance [from hundred thousand dollars to four hundred and sixty-two thousand dollars]. [...] [A] fire-analysis report commissioned by the St. Paul insurance company [...] concluded that the fire was “incendiary.” The report cited “suspicious burn patterns,” such as “two separate major areas of origin,” and it said, “No accidental source of heating power was located at either of these two major areas of origin.” The manner in which stacks of cardboard boxes burned was inconsistent with an accidental fire. A flammable liquid appeared to have been poured over the boxes. [...] Both [Issa] brothers suggested that the real winner was a company called Pied Piper, which sold the bug zappers that Issa’s company was assembling. “The beneficiary of almost all the insurance was a man who was double-insured,” Issa said. [...] When I relayed this conversation to Franklin Porath, one of the owners of Pied Piper [...], he said that Issa had tried to defraud his company, and that he believes Issa committed arson to cover up the alleged fraud. He added, “Issa is the most evil man I ever met.””
Issa the car thief: “A member of Issa’s Army unit, Jay Bergey, told Williams that his most vivid recollection of the young Issa was that [...] Issa stole his car… “I confronted Issa,” Bergey said in 1998. “I got in his face and threatened to kill him, and magically my car reappeared the next day, abandoned on the turnpike.” [...] [T]hree months after Issa allegedly stole Jay Bergey’s car [...], Ohio police arrested Issa and his older brother, William, and charged them with stealing a red Maserati from a Cleveland showroom. The judge eventually dismissed the case. [...] When I mentioned the car-theft allegation made by Sergeant Bergey, Issa bridled. I reminded him that in 1998 Bergey had told a newspaper he couldn’t believe Issa was running for office. “I can’t believe he ended his career as a medium-rank sergeant with an alcohol problem,” Issa replied. He added, “Did I steal his or anyone’s car? No. Did I have anything to do with it and do I know whether somebody else stole it or he simply left it in a drunken stupor?” [On] December 28, 1979, William Issa arrived at Smythe European Motors, in San Jose, and offered to sell Darrell’s car, a red 1976 Mercedes sedan. William was carrying an Ohio driver’s license with his brother’s name on it and the dealer gave William a check for sixteen thousand dollars, which he immediately cashed. Soon afterward, Darrell reported the car stolen from the Monterey airport. He later told the police that he had left the title in the trunk. The brothers had been together in Cleveland for Christmas, and, after Darrell gave a series of conflicting statements [...], the investigator in the case became suspicious that the two men had conspired to fraudulently sell Darrell’s car and then collect the insurance money. The brothers were indicted for grand theft.”
Issa the science-denier: “Issa seems unconvinced about the science behind climate change, and the investigation that he seemed most passionate about when we spoke involved U.S. government funding for the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit. This is the organization behind the so-called Climategate controversy…”
As Mark Russell at Newser puts it, “Darrell Issa is eager to investigate the Obama administration, but he’s got plenty of skeletons in his own closet. [...] Issa has been accused of burning down a building and arrested for carrying a concealed weapon (he paid a fine, got 6 months probation) and stealing a red Maserati (case dismissed). The stories are old ones, and have been aired before, and Issa “seemed tired of defending himself” from them. “Everyone,” Issa told him, “has a past.” And in reviewing the events that have dogged him, “Issa’s defense in most cases can be summarized in four words,” writes Lizza. ‘My brother did it.’”
All in all, Rep. Issa does not seem to be a shining example of moral rectitude or exemplary behavior. You might enjoy this video of Rep. Issa — of all people! — accusing our government of being corrupt: