The Top 15 Moments from the Darrell Issa Hall of Shame
As the Washington Post, Politico and others reported, new House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Darrell Issa has announced a long list of investigations designed to "embarrass the Obama administration." Of course, when it comes to embarrassment, Issa knows more than most. After all, before he comically called the Obama White House "one of the most corrupt," among his myriad outrages the one-time accused car thief turned car alarm magnate attacked the families of dead Blackwater contractors, accused Valerie Plame of perjury and called the 9/11 attacks in New York just a plane crash.
Here, then, are top 15 moments in the Darrell Issa Hall of Shame:
- Issa Calls 9/11 Attacks in New York a Plane Crash
- Issa Weeps Over Premature Withdrawal from Gubernatorial Race
- Issa Asks Big Business to "Tell Me What to Change"
- Issa Labels Obama "Most Corrupt" President
- Issa Uses Tim Russert's Death to Push for Oil Drilling
- Issa Says U.S. Treat Hospital Patients Worse Than Al Qaeda
- Issa Attacks Families of Killed Blackwater Contractors
- Issa Targets Government "In-Sourcing"
- Issa Accuses Valerie Plame of Perjury
- Issa Drives the Firing of U.S. Attorney Carol Lam
- Issa Blames Software for Bush White House Email Destruction
- Issa Offers Howard Krongard a Ticket to the White House Christmas Party
- Issa Forces Jerry Nadler to Withdraw Truthful Statement about Bush's Illegal Domestic Surveillance
- Issa Defends Roger Clemens Against Steroid Allegations
- Issa Blames His Brother for Past Brushes with the Law
1. Issa Calls 9/11 Attacks in New York a Plane Crash
Issa's slur against World Trade Center rescue workers was the perhaps most unforgettable moment in a truly forgettable political career. Almost three years before President Obama signed the $4.2 billion 9/11 responders health care bill into law, Rep. Issa was waging a campaign to stop it.
Desperate to refuse federal funds to the ailing workers who rushed to Ground Zero, Issa denied the September 11 carnage was an attack on the United States at all. As the New York Post summed it up:
"It's very simple: I can't vote for additional money for New York if I can't see why it would be appropriate to do this every single time a similar situation happens, which quite frankly includes any urban terrorist. It doesn't have to be somebody from al Qaeda. It can be someone who decides that they don't like animal testing at one of our pharmaceutical facilities."
Issa said the destruction of the World Trade Center did not involve a dirty bomb or a chemical weapon designed to make people sick.
"It simply was an aircraft, residue of the aircraft and residue of the materials used to build this building," Issa said.
2. Issa Weeps Over Premature Withdrawal from Gubernatorial Race
In the film, A League of Their Own, Tom Hanks proclaims, "there's no crying in baseball." If that same standard applied to American politics, Darrell Issa's career like that of John Boehner would have ended long ago.
In 2003, Issa led the effort to recall California Governor Gray Davis. (Davis was undone by the energy crisis which crippled the Golden State thanks in large part to market manipulation by Enron.) But part two of the Issa plan - to capture the Governor's office himself - abruptly ran aground when Arnold Schwarzenegger decided to get in the race.
On August 7, 2003, Issa shocked supporters and announced he would not continue his candidacy. Comically claiming, "It had nothing to do with Schwarzenegger's decision," Issa at times wept uncontrollably as he made his premature withdrawal. (This video shows Issa's pathetic performance as he concluded his gubernatorial ambitions had been terminated. The water works start around the 7:30 mark.)
3. Issa Asks Big Business to "Tell Me What to Change"
By last spring, Issa had emerged, in the words of the New York Times, as President Obama's "Annoyer-in-Chief." And fresh off his inquisition in the Sestak no-pay-for-no-play non-scandal he deemed "Obama's Watergate", Issa last summer made clear he plans to ramp up the GOP's efforts to protect its friends and target its enemies. While the Obama administration had much to fear a Republican takeover of the House, Darrell Issa promised his party's business backers they would have a friend on Capitol Hill:
"That will make all the difference in the world. I won't use it to have corporate America live in fear that we're going to subpoena everything. I will use it to get the very information that today the White House is either shredding or not producing."
This week, Rep. Issa made good on his promise to big businesses, asking them in a letter to 150 trade associations to "tell me what to change."
4. Issa Labels Obama "Most Corrupt" President
By August, Politico was previewing what it deemed Issa's "season of subpoenas." But for his part, Darrell Issa was sending mixed signals about the inquisition to come. As the Washington Post reported:
Good Darrell, writing in USA Today on Oct. 11: "Oversight is not and should not be used as a political weapon against the occupant of the Oval Office. It should not be an instrument of fear or the exclusive domain of the party that controls Congress."
Bad Darrell, to Rush Limbaugh on Oct. 19: "You know, there will be a certain degree of gridlock as the president adjusts to the fact that he has been one of the most corrupt presidents in modern times."
This weekend, Bad Darrell repeated the charge. Ignoring both Nixon's Watergate scandals and the Abramoff, U.S. attorneys, Plamegate, domestic spying and MZM imbroglios which defined the Bush White House, Issa branded Obama's "one of the most corrupt" administrations.
5. Issa Uses Tim Russert's Death to Push for Oil Drilling
After the death of NBC reporter and Meet the Press host Tim Russert in June 2008, members of the House of Representatives offered their condolences and eulogies to Russert while discussing a resolution in his honor. During the debate, Issa took to the floor to instead make a pitch for off-shore drilling:
"We are going to miss Tim Russert when it comes to the people on both sides of the issue of why we have $5 oil - $5 gasoline and $135 oil. I think Tim Russert would have been just the right guy to hold people accountable, who would talk about the 68 million acres that are, quote, inactive, while in fact 41 million are under current lease and use and are producing millions of barrels of oil and natural gas a day...
...So, Madam Speaker, I am going to miss Tim Russert because this debate is too important not to have a fact-oriented, unbiased moderator who could in fact bring to bear the truth that we need to have."
6. Issa Says U.S. Treat Hospital Patients Worse Than Al Qaeda
For years, Republican supporters of the President Bush's regime of detainee torture have to the "Club Gitmo" defense. Comparing the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay to everything from Club Med to a Boy Scout camp, GOP leaders insisted Al Qaeda suspects never had it go good.
During a 2008 testimony from former Bush Attorney General John Ashcroft, Darrell Issa insisted that Americans are subject to much worse things than waterboarding and sleep deprivation here at home:
ISSA: It is sort of amazing that as a member of the permanent Select Intelligence Committee, I've never heard any allegation of any detainee being denied food or water for a week. It's clear that we treated our hospital patients at times worse than al Qaeda.
ASCHROFT: What's more, they were poking needles into me all the time.
7. Issa Attacks Families of Killed Blackwater Contractors
Among the low points in Issa's career as a Bush sycophant was his vicious defense of the mercenary firm Blackwater. As the security company faced charges ranging from atrocities in Iraq to abandoning the families of its slain workers, Issa went on the warpath in its defense.
During February 2007 Blackwater hearings of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Issa attacked four women whose family members were killed by Iraqi insurgents and dragged through the streets of Fallujah:
"Although I don't think your testimony today is particularly germane to the oversight of this committee, I am deeply sorry for the losses that you've had...One question I have is, the opening statement, who wrote it?"
That October, Issa's jihad in defense of Blackwater continued. On October 16, 2007, Issa claimed that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and his committee chairman Henry Waxman ""go after our troops." Ironically, just two weeks earlier, Issa comically pressed Blackwater CEO Erik Prince to acknowledge his ties to the Bush administration and the GOP, only to then claim "labeling some company as Republican" because of a family's background "is inappropriate."
8. Issa Targets Government "In-Sourcing"
As it turns out, Congressman Issa wasn't merely a defender of out-sourcing America's national security to run amok contractors like Blackwater/Xe. As he made clear to Bloomberg's Al Hunt in October, protecting the profits of outsourcing firms would be at the top of Chairman Issa's agenda:
HUNT: Right. But where is he the most corrupt?
ISSA: I think the process that we're dealing with, where insourcing, for example -- and this is right on my committee -- we have every day in the defense and non-defense community, executives of the government tapping people on the shoulder saying, "You know, your contract's not going to be renewed. We're going to insource that. You should take this job now for a pay raise."
9. Issa Accuses Valerie Plame of Perjury
On July 11, 2007, the House Judiciary Committee held a session to discuss the misuse of presidential clemency powers in President Bush's commutation of Scooter Libby's sentence. That hearing occurred just four months after outed covert CIA operative Valerie Plame had testified under oath before Congress on March 16, 2007.
Not content to merely confront Ambassador Joe Wilson during his testimony, Congressman Issa accused both Wilson and his wife of perjury:
"I certainly believe Ambassador Wilson at his word, but I hope he believes me at my word, which is that in fact having read all the information, I believe that his wife will soon be asking for a pardon, that in fact she has not been genuine in her testimony before Congress and, if pursued, Ambassador Wilson and Valerie would be asking for the same sort of treatment, which is that in fact we put this behind us."
10. Issa Drives the Firing of U.S. Attorney Carol Lam
As it turns out, Congressman Issa was also a key player in another major Bush administration scandal, the political purge of U.S. attorneys.
Carol Lam, who successfully prosecuted disgraced San Diego Republican Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham, was one of the 8 U.S. prosecutors forced out by Alberto Gonzales' Justice Department. But it was Issa who helped create the façade that supposedly lax immigration enforcement by Lam's office was behind her dismissal.
It was Issa, after all, who released an anonymously written 41 page Border Patrol report which claimed "that Lam was giving less attention to human smugglers than she should." As the Voice of San Diego reported in March 2007:
Six days after the Associated Press story broke, Issa's office sent a letter to Lam, in which the congressman called the memo "an embarrassment to your office."
Monica Goodling, a Justice Department spokeswoman, sent the letter to Kyle Sampson, Gonzales' chief of staff who resigned in the attorney firing scandal's wake, and two other high-ranking officials.
"FYI," she wrote, "the assault continues."
Lam was eventually sacked, as TPM Muckraker concluded, "despite the fact that no one from the Justice Department ever confronted Carol Lam over her performance on immigration prosecutions."
(Last July, an investigation by the DOJ's Nora Dannehy effectively brushed the prosecutors purge under the rug, concluding the Bush administration's Justice Department's actions were inappropriately political, but not criminal.)
11. Issa Blames Software for Bush White House Email Destruction
Committed to defending Bush administration wrong-doing at every turn, Darrell Issa in February weighed in on the White House's destruction of millions of emails. Now a self-proclaimed IT expert, Issa claimed that the likely criminal loss of the emails, including those for critical time periods such as the breaking PlameGate scandal, was just the result of a software glitch.
Mother Jones described Issa's feeble attempt to blame IBM's Lotus Notes software then used by the Bush White House, an accusation he was later forced to recant:
Defending the White House's decision to switch from the Lotus Notes-based archiving system used by the Clinton administration, Issa compared the software to "using wooden wagon wheels" and Sony Betamax tapes. To observers of the missing emails controversy, Issa's comments seemed little more than an attempt to deflect blame from the White House for replacing a working system for archiving presidential records with an ad hoc substitute. But to IT professionals who use Lotus at their companies, Issa's remarks seemed controversial, if not downright slanderous. Now, according to an executive at IBM, the software's manufacturer, the California congressman has apologized for his characterization of Lotus and offered to correct the congressional record.
12. Issa Offers Howard Krongard a Ticket to the White House Christmas Party
In November 2007, Americans learned of the staggering corruption, ineptitude and conflicts of interest of then State Department Inspector General Howard Krongard. Within days of his devastating appearance before Waxman's House Oversight Committee (including his admission that his brother served as an adviser to Blackwater), Krongard resigned over allegations he impeded "ongoing criminal investigations into the construction of a new, $740 million U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and security firm Blackwater Worldwide."
But during his calamitous Congressional hearing in November, Krongard was praised by Darrell Issa. After Krongard earlier noted that he had never met President Bush, Issa told him:
"Thank you for your service. And I'll end by saying that the first week of December the president's having a Christmas party. I have an extra guest ticket. After today, I know that you've earned it. I would be happy to have you use my guest ticket and then you'll get your picture with the president and you'll get to meet him as well you should."
13. Issa Forces Jerry Nadler to Withdraw Truthful Statement about Bush's Illegal Domestic Surveillance
In August of 2007 as Congress debated revisions to FISA under the so-called Protect America Act, Rep. Issa went on the attack against opponents of President Bush's domestic surveillance program.
During the debate, Congressman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) spoke out against the codification of President Bush's regime of warrantless wiretapping, domestic surveillance which prior to August 2007 was almost certainly illegal:
"This bill is not needed to protect America from terrorists. The only purpose of this bill is to protect this administration from its own political problems and cynicism, and its own illegal actions it has taken outside the law without any authorization."
For his part, Issa demanded that Nadler withdraw his assertion that the Bush administration had engaged in illegal activities. ThinkProgress detailed the Issa brouhaha that ensued:
After some pause, Nadler said he would withdraw his "truthful and accurate statements" in order to proceed with the floor debate. Issa, unhappy with Nadler's retraction, said, "He is not withdrawing it if he claims they're accurate." Nadler responded, "I'm withdrawing them without any reservation but I retain my opinion."
14. Issa Defends Roger Clemens Against Steroid Allegations
During February 2008 hearings in which neither political party did itself credit, Henry Waxman's House Oversight and Government Reform Committee probed the use of performance enhancing drugs in major league baseball. Perhaps conscious of lingering allegations that George W. Bush turned a blind eye to his players' own steroid use while running the Texas Rangers, Republican committee members rushed to Roger Clemens' defense.
None more so that Darrell Issa. Issa called Clemens' alleged supplier, Brian McNamee, "a drug pusher" and proclaimed that McNamee's diploma-mill PhD stood for "pile it higher and deeper." Amazingly, Issa compared Clemens' use of B-12 to his own "mother getting B-12 shots from our family physician," adding, "She was pre-menopausal and simply a little anemic she thought." Issa then concluded by lecturing McNamee, "Shame on you."
15. Issa Blames His Brother for Past Brushes with the Law
Which is a lot of chutzpah for as shameless a pol as Darrell Issa. When it came to his own brushes with the law, Issa, too, pointed the finger at someone else: his brother.
In the run-up to his aborted 2003 campaign for California governor, Issa faced scrutiny over his arrests in 1972 and 1980 on auto theft charges. While the charges were ultimately dropped in both cases for lack of evidence, the 1980 episode was a damning one:
The Santa Clara case happened in February, 1980, when Issa was a 27-year-old U.S. Army officer, and his brother was 29, according to the Chronicle. The brothers were arrested on a felony auto-theft charge. According to prosecutors said, William Issa sold his brother's car to Smythe European Motors in San Jose for $13,000 cash and three $1,000 traveler's checks. Hours later, Darrell Issa reported the car stolen from the Monterey airport, near his Army post at Fort Ord.
For his part, Issa was quick to blame his brother for both his run-ins with the police and his later riches selling car security systems:
"William has inflicted pain and sorrow upon our family since he was a teenager. Obviously, his past continues to inflict pain today," said Issa, who became a multimillionaire manufacturer of electronic auto alarms, including the popular "Viper" anti-theft device. "When people ask me why I got into the car alarm business, I tell them the truth. It was because my brother was a car thief."