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Welcome to the Darrell Issa Hall of Shame

May 20, 2013

With Washington engulfed in scandals real and imagined over the Benghazi tragedy, the IRS' handling of applications by political groups for tax exempt status and the Justice Department's seizure of AP phone records, California Congressman Darrell Issa is enjoying his moment in the sun.
For Republicans "energized" by the prospect of bludgeoning President Obama over his supposed misdeeds, Issa is the perfect hatchet man. After all, given his own past troubles including "the gun conviction, the three allegations of car theft, the arson allegation, the allegation that he dismissed an employee while brandishing a gun, and the mysteries about his finances," Darrell Issa is well acquainted with wrong-doing. Before becoming chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in January 2011, Issa served as the Bush administration's attack dog in Congress. (That explains why in June 2010 he was already planning to double his committee staff and planning to issue subpoenas to "get the very information that today the White House is either shredding or not producing.") And perhaps most helpful in his current role, Darrell Issa appears to be lacking the embarrassment gene altogether.
You don't have to read his long rap sheet to reach that conclusion. A brief tour of the Darrell Issa Hall of Shame will suffice:

  1. Issa Calls 9/11 Attacks in New York a Plane Crash
  2. Issa Weeps Over Premature Withdrawal from Gubernatorial Race
  3. Issa Asks Big Business to "Tell Me What to Change"
  4. Issa Labels Obama "Most Corrupt" President
  5. Issa Uses Tim Russert's Death to Push for Oil Drilling
  6. Issa Says U.S. Treat Hospital Patients Worse Than Al Qaeda
  7. Issa Attacks Families of Killed Blackwater Contractors
  8. Issa Declares Blackwater Hearings an Attack on David Petraeus
  9. Issa Charges David Petraeus with Carrying Water for Barack Obama
  10. Issa Targets Government "In-Sourcing"
  11. Issa Accuses Valerie Plame of Perjury
  12. Issa Drives the Firing of U.S. Attorney Carol Lam
  13. Issa Blames Software for Bush White House Email Destruction
  14. Issa Defends Disgraced Bush GSA Chief Lurita Doan
  15. Issa Offers Howard Krongard a Ticket to the White House Christmas Party
  16. Issa Forces Jerry Nadler to Withdraw Truthful Statement about Bush's Illegal Domestic Surveillance
  17. Issa Demands Names of Those Making Freedom of Information Act Requests
  18. Issa Insists Everything is Like Watergate
  19. Issa Wages 15-Year Vendetta Against Reporter Eric Lichtblau
  20. 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 Gov. 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 Aug. 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 waterworks start around the 7:30 mark.)
3. Issa Asks Big Business to "Tell Me What to Change"
By 2010, 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."

In January 2011, 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 2010, 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."

In January 2011, 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. He 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 Declares Blackwater Hearings an Attack on David Petraeus
Congressman Issa wasn't content to mock the families of the four Blackwater contractors slaughtered in Fallujah. On October 2, 2007, Issa blasted then Chairman Henry Waxman and committee Democrats for their inquiry which occurred just days after an incident in which 11 Iraqi civilians were killed by Blackwater employees:

I think it's been made incredibly clear by the previous statements on the Democrats side that this is not about Blackwater. [...]What we're hearing today is in fact a repeat of the attack on General Petraeus' patriotism.
What we're seeing is that, except for the 79 members who voted against denouncing, eight of whom are on the dais here today, what we're seeing is what they couldn't do to our men and women in uniform, they'll simply switch targets.
The bodies were not cold in Iraq before this became a story worth going after here in committee.
I'm not here to defend Blackwater.
But I am here to defend General Petraeus and the men and women in uniform who do their job, who were first denounced by, then not denounced by members of Congress, many of whom are on the dais today, speaking as though they don't support attacking every possible way the administration's war in Iraq.

9. Issa Charges David Petraeus with Carrying Water for Barack Obama
Issa's use of General Petraeus as a human shield came to an end when Republican George W. Bush ambled out of the White House. Six years after decrying that Petraeus was being targeted by Democrats "as part of an ongoing partisan smear campaign against U.S. efforts in Iraq," Issa last week accused the former CIA chief of doing Barack Obama's bidding over the Benghazi tragedy:

DAVID GREGORY: Chairman, my reporting of the immediate aftermath of this talking to administration officials is that CIA Director David Petraeus made it clear when he briefed top officials that there-- that there was a spontaneous element to this, that it was not completely known that this was a terrorist attack right away. You don't give any credence to the notion that there was some fog of war, that there were-- there were conflicting circumstances about what went on here.
REP. ISSA: David Petraeus said what the administration wanted him to say is the indication. Ambassador Pickering heard what the administration wanted to hear. The only under oath people I know about who have said what happened on the ground that day was, in fact, before our committee just on Wednesday.

But when Gregory asked him if he was accusing the Obama administration of having "bullied the CIA into saying what the political advisors in the White House wanted him to say," Chairman Issa responded simply, "David, we're not making charges."
Of course, just the previous week Issa insisted that there's "no question" someone from Hillary Clinton's circle - if not the former secretary of state herself - was involved in a "cover-up."
10. 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 2010, 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."

11. 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."

12. 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."
(In July 2010, 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.)
13. Issa Blames Software for Bush White House Email Destruction
Committed to defending Bush administration wrong-doing at every turn, Darrell Issa in February 2008 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.

14. Issa Defends Disgraced Bush GSA Chief Lurita Doan
In the spring of 2012, Chairman Issa announced his panel would investigate lavish spending by personnel of the General Services Administration (GSA). A glitzy Las Vegas conference, he explained, reflected the GSA's "culture of wasteful spending" which could total "perhaps billions of dollars." But when he spoke of "a pattern that may have begun under the Bush administration," that was an understatement to say the least.
After all, it was Darrell Issa who in 2007 rushed to the defense of disgraced Bush GSA administrator, Lurita Doan. Doan had not only tried to steer funds to a former colleague in a no-bid contract. In May 2007, the Office of Special Counsel found Doan "violated the Hatch Act's prohibition against using your official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election when you solicited over 30 subordinate employees to engage in political activity." That activity included asking political appointees how they could "help our candidates" at an agency briefing conducted by a White House official.
Nevertheless, Darrell Issa, the same man who accused Valerie Plame of perjury, attacked the families of murdered Blackwater employees and accused Joe Sestak of Hatch Act violations, defended Doan as a victim. During a March 2007 Oversight Committee hearing, Issa defended Doan. As NPR reported:

Republicans stuck up for Doan. Darrell Issa of California noted that she has been running GSA for just eight months: "In your eight months, I think you've probably found what I found in my nearly seven years now: That this is a bureaucracy that will resist you at every point, isn't it?"
Doan's reply: "You're absolutely right."

For her part, the loyal Bushie Lurita Doan repaid the favor. In January 2011, Doan reemerged on the pages of Townhall to praise "Issa's Early Effect."
15. 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 that 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."

16. 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."

17. Issa Demands Names of Those Making Freedom of Information Act Requests
Next week, Chairman Issa will hold a hearing into allegations that career civil servants at the IRS apparently targeted conservative political groups seeking tax-exempt status. Claiming that the IRS apology was "not an honest one" for what he deemed "political retaliation." Issa also charged that the Justice Department's seizure of AP phone records was an "overreach" that would have prompted "outrage" if Congress has done it.
Of course, two years ago it was Darrell Issa himself who was engaging in "chilling" behavior by demanding information on every person who made a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.
As you may recall, Barack Obama upon taking office quickly reversed President Bush's policy of rejecting FOIA requests by default, withholding documents as long as there was a "sound legal basis" for doing so. But when the AP reported that some FOIA applications to the Department of Homeland Security were subject to "highly unusual scrutiny" by political advisers, Issa insisted he be inserted into the process. As the New York Times reported:

Mr. Issa, a California Republican and the new chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, says he wants to make sure agencies respond in a timely fashion to Freedom of Information Act requests and do not delay them out of political considerations...
Mr. Issa sent a letter on Tuesday asking 180 federal agencies, from the Department of Defense to the Social Security Administration, for electronic files containing the names of people who requested the documents, the date of their requests and a description of information they sought. For those still pending after more than 45 days, he also asked for any communication between the requestor and the federal agency. The request covers the final three years of Bush administration and the first two years of President Obama's.

18. Issa Insists Everything is Like Watergate
By now, Americans have grown fatigued with endless Republicans proclamations that the slightest whiff of scandal emanating from the Obama White House is "worse than Watergate." Darrell Issa is no exception, having charged that both the Fast and Furious gun walking operation and allegations that Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Sestak was offered an administration job in exchange for dropping out of the Senate race against Arlen Spector constituted "Obama's Watergate."
As it turned out, Issa didn't pursue his inquisition over the Sestak affair for a simple reason. Not only was there no quid pro quo, but Issa had to contend with an actual case during the Bush administration's drive for Medicare drug coverage. As he explained to CNN's Ed Henry in 2010:

ISSA: Once we knew, as we discovered, that it turns out that Republicans and previous administrations thought it was OK in spite of the absolute black and white letter of the law, it got bigger -- it got bigger than President Barack Obama.
HENRY: So are you going to investigate the Sestak case?
ISSA: No we're not. Here's the whole point.
HENRY: But if it was Obama's Watergate, now you're going to walk away?

19. Issa Wages 15-Year Vendetta Against Reporter Eric Lichtblau
Thanks to his Pulitzer Prize-winning work exposing the Bush administration's illicit program of warrantless domestic surveillance by the National Security Administration, many Americans are acquainted with New York Times reporter Eric Lichtblau. But what they probably don't know is that Darrell Issa has had it in for Lichtblau for 15 years.
The one-way feud started in 1998, when Issa blamed his defeat in the GOP California Senate primary on an unflattering expose Lichtblau penned for the Los Angeles Times. So when Lichtblau in 2011 was preparing a new profile for the New York Times ("A Businessman in Congress Helps His District and Himself"), Issa's office refused to even answer any questions and then demanded retractions afterwards. As the Washington Post reported:

So when Lichtblau requested Issa's cooperation for the Aug. 14 story on the lawmaker's business and political worlds, he got nowhere. The problem, suggests the Issa camp, wasn't the questions; it was the guy asking them. "Had The New York Times assigned a different reporter," said one of Issa's post-publication press releases, "our response would have almost certainly been different."
Different from ferocious and cutthroat, that is. The demand for retraction that Issa released following the story's publication -- the one alleging 13 erroneous statements--- creates a new standard for aggressive pushback.

Issa confirmed his disdain, telling Ryan Lizza of the New Yorker that Lichtblau was "a notorious hatchet man." But the future chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee wasn't content to rest there. When Bush Attorney General Michael Mukasey testified on July 23, 2008 about the impact of national security leaks, Issa suggested Lichtblau was public enemy number one. He asked Mukasey to comment both about "the effects of organizations like the New York Times" on "the ability of us to conduct the war on terror and as to potential prosecutions."

ISSA: ...tell us what we need to do in order to stop that while respecting the legitimate use of the press.
MUKASEY. I think, without going into detail or starting to criticize individual newspapers---
ISSA. I am not restrained from saying Eric Lichtblau and the other people who leak national secrets, but I understand that you wouldn't.
MUKASEY. They ultimately get even by writing your obituary, so you have to be very careful.
ISSA. I am from a family of long livers.

20. 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."

(This piece originally appeared at Dailykos.)


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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