New Chairman of House Oversight Committee Lacks Moral Gravitas (To Put It Mildly)

New House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA)

Now that the Republicans control the House of Representatives, the new Chairman of the House Committee for Oversight and Reform will be five-term California Representative Darrell Issa.

According to Wikipedia, Issa is the wealthiest member of Congress with a net worth of $250 million. Before running for office Issa was CEO of Directed Electronics, which makes car alarms and other security devices for autos.

In a recent appearance on the In an October 2010 appearance on the Rush Limbaugh radio show, Issa told the right wing host that Obama is “one of the most corrupt presidents in modern times.”

Issa later tried to backtrack on this statement, saying he was referring to the Obama administration, not the President personally. On Wednesday, he defended his remarks by telling John King that he and CNN did not understand the meaning of the word “corrupt.”

Speaking to CNN’s Chief National Correspondent John King Wednesday, Issa offered his definition of the word “corrupt”:

“I think people misunderstand the meaning of the word corrupt, and obviously, CNN does. ‘Corrupt’, or ‘corrupted’ or ‘failure’, it’s no different than a disc drive that’s given you some bits that are wrong,” Issa said on CNN.

Issa continued, “I have never said it’s illegal.

Issa then explained that the “corruption” he is most concerned about is government regulation of corporations. In fact, Issa recently sent letters to business leaders, asking them to say which regulations they would like to get rid of.

Recipients of the letters include the American Petroleum Institute, The Association of American Railroads, and Toyota. Politico reports that the invitation has garnered complaints against a wide-range of regulations. Environmental protections have drawn lots of criticism. Everything from limiting waste-water flows from construction sites, to greenhouse gas and hazardous air pollutant controls, have been attacked. in the name of economic growth industries are also requesting repeals or blocks on everything from labor safety regulations, financial reforms, and consumer safety.

At Huffington Post, Ryan Grim reported yesterday that Issa plans to investigate the foreclosure crisis by focusing primarily on Fannie and Freddie instead of corporate giants like Bank of America.

This is the man who will be “investigating” the Obama administration and “the operations of Government activities at all levels with a view to determining their economy and efficiency.” Incidentally, one of Issa’s sidekicks on the committee is Dan Burton of Indiana, the guy who “investigated” death of Vince Foster by shooting a watermelon in his backyard in front of reporters.

According to Donald Cohen and Peter Dreier at Alternet,

Issa plans to hold hearings of his Oversight and Government Reform Committee to explore how he can help corporate America rid itself of “burdensome government regulations.” According to Politico, Issa asked businesses, including Duke Energy, FMC Corp., Toyota and Bayer, to supply him with their wish lists. He also sent letters to industry lobby groups including the American Petroleum Institute, National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), the Association of American Railroads, the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association (NPRA) and entities representing health care and telecommunication providers.

It isn’t hard to imagine what that their wish list will look like. Indeed, it hasn’t changed much in the past century. The specific bills and issues ebb and flow, but the business mantra is always the same. Get government off our backs. Let the “free” market determine what we make and how we make it. We can police ourselves. Too many government rules kills jobs.

This would almost be fun to watch if there weren’t so much at stake.

So Who is Darrell Issa?

Well, he was born in Cleveland, Ohio, where he attended Cleveland Heights High School, the second of six children in a working class father who worked two jobs. He was dyslexic and didn’t do well academically. When he was 17, Issa dropped out of high school and joined the army. He got a hardship discharge because his father was “gravely ill.” After his first stint in the Army, Issa joined the ROTC, which financed his college education at Kent State University at Stark in Canton, Ohio, and Sienna Heights University in Adrian, Michigan. According to Wikipedia,

Upon graduation, he was commissioned as an officer in the United States Army, serving as a tank platoon leader and a computer research and development specialist, among other command roles. He left the Army in 1980 with the rank of captain. He later moved to Vista, California, a suburb of San Diego, where he now lives.

Issa made his fortune through his company, Directed Electronics Incorporated, that is most famous for its flagship product, the “Viper” car alarm. It bears a siren that is a recording of Issa’s voice saying, “please step away from the car.”[6] As of 2004, Directed Electronics was North America’s largest aftermarket automotive electronics manufacturer. Issa divested personal interest in Directed Electronics after being elected to public office.

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On his Facebook page, Issa describes himself as follows:

Political Views: Conservative

Religious Views: Christian Eclectic: Father-Catholic, Mother-Mormon, raised in a Jewish neighborhood as a Lebanese American

Activities: Motorcycling, playing volleyball, water and downhill skiing

Interests: New technology, the San Diego Padres and the San Diego Chargers

Favorite Music: Anything from the 1960’s, Harry Chapin, Jim Croce

Favorite Movies: Battlestar Galactica

Favorite Books: Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand) and anything by Lee Iacocca

Favorite TV Shows: Law and Order, House, MASH

So the guy is a right wing nut, but he’s also an example of a real rags-to-riches story.

But does he have a dark side? Issa has had several brushes with the law, and not just when he was a kid; and he has demonstrated poor judgment on a number of occasions that have been reported in the press. Let’s take a look at the public record.

When Issa first ran for the House in 1998, the San Francisco Chronicle dug up some embarrassing information from his past. The paper revealed that Issa had either deliberately lied or greatly exaggerated his military record.

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Darrell Issa says that during the Vietnam War he served with an elite Army bomb unit, traveling with then-President Richard Nixon to protect him from harm.

He attended baseball’s World Series in 1971 as part of the president’s security entourage, Issa once told an interviewer.

But the Chronicle learned that

…Issa’s service on what he terms an “Army security team” amounted to less than six months on a bomb-disposal squad in 1971. That’s scant experience to qualify him for presidential security duty, former GI bomb experts say.

Issa couldn’t have guarded Nixon at the World Series because the president didn’t attend, according to the Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda.

Issa had also claimed he was on active duty in the Army for nine years, when he was actually in college and ROTC for four of those years. In addition, during his service on the “bomb squad,” Issa got into trouble for stealing a car, received “a bad conduct rating,” and was demoted.

“That kid stole my car out of the parking lot and took it to Cleveland, and I knew he did it,” said retired 1st Sgt. Jay Bergey, who served with Issa in 1971 on the 145th Ordnance Detail, an Army bomb squad stationed near Pittsburgh.

“I confronted Issa. . .. . I got in his face and threatened to kill him, and magically my car reappeared the next day, abandoned on the turnpike,” the retired soldier said in a phone interview from his home in Pennsylvania.

Issa was not prosecuted and “he left the unit very shortly after that,” the former soldier said.

In 1972, Issa and his brother William were charged with stealing a Masserati from a Cleveland car dealership. The charges were later dropped.

In 1980 Issa and his brother were again charged with car theft. From the San Francisco Chronicle:

Republican Rep. Darrell Issa, the driving force behind the effort to recall Gov. Gray Davis, was prosecuted with his brother in San Jose in 1980 for allegedly faking the theft of Issa’s Mercedes Benz sedan and selling it to a car dealer for $16,000, according to court records.

Issa, in a phone interview with The Chronicle Tuesday, blamed his brother for the car theft, which was detailed in documents on file in Santa Clara County Superior Court and which has never been made public.

“I do not steal,” Issa said.

Alrighty then. Apparently the police suspected the two brothers had cooked up a scheme to sell the car and also collected the insurance money. This suspicion was based on the fact that Issa reported the car stolen shortly after his brother had gotten the money from the car dealer. In addition, Darrell had also conveniently left the car’s pink slip in the glove compartment. To top it all off, William showed up at the dealership wearing a beard and carrying his brother Darrell’s driver’s license. The dealer later ID’d William as the man who sold him the “cherry red Mercedes 240.”

All this happened while Darrell was still in the Army. He was 27. (I’m still trying to figure out how he got the money to pay for such an expensive car.) In the end the case was dismissed for lack of evidence.

I also came across rumors that Darrell and older brother William were already stealing cars when they were in high school. Check out this thread at Democratic Underground.

Reading between the lines of all these articles, I’m guessing that 17-year-old Darrell Issa was told by a judge to join the army or do some jail time. That used to happen a lot in the Vietnam era. Issa and his brother probably got away with more car thefts than they got caught for. How else does a young man from a working class family and just out of the army get the money to buy a manufacturing company and a Mercedes? More on all that to come.

Car theft was just the beginning of Issa’s troubled history. In 1982, Issa was suspected of arson when a fire

…ripped through [Issa’s Ohio] manufacturing plant in 1982. No one was ever charged in the fire, but authorities were troubled by a dramatic escalation in the facility’s fire insurance just weeks earlier.

Just seven months before the fire, Issa had acquired the Cleveland car alarm company, A.C. Custom Electronics, which was housed in the Quantum Enterprises building along with a number of other businesses.

According to the Los Angeles Times: “Weeks before the fire, Issa and [business partner] Hunsinger boosted their fire insurance from $ 100,000 to $ 462,000 on property stored for other companies…At the same time, a separate company that contracted with Quantum to outfit bug zappers increased its insurance to $ 400,000, and, according to an insurance report, one investigator was ‘concerned about the coincidence.’

There were also “suspicious burn patterns” indicating that an accelerant had been used to start the fire; and several computers and the company blueprints had been removed–apparently for safekeeping–days before the fire. Read more details at the above link, which summarizes much of Issa’s criminal history.

Are you starting to get the impression that the new House Oversight boss is a bit of a thug? Well hold onto your hats, because there’s more.

Issa was twice charged with possession of illegal weapons and in one instance was convicted of a misdemeanor. He was also accused of carrying a concealed weapon in the incident when he and his brother stole the Masserati. In and even more serious incident, Issa was accused of using a gun to intimidate a manager at AC Custom Electronics, which he had acquired with some very hardball tactics. According to the LA Times:

Issa has spent about $6 million of his own money to air commercials in which he tells, among other things, of “building a world-class business from scratch” and using his $7,000 life savings to start the company.

But Adkins, 42, who is now repairing video equipment at his rundown shop outside Cleveland, was there at the beginning, too. The company that Issa says he founded had belonged to Adkins until Issa seized control in 1982.

Issa says he simply did what any good businessman would have done under the circumstances.

Adkins counters: “Darrell stole that company out from under me. He screwed us.”

Basically what happened is that Issa developed a business relationship with Adkins and then lent him some money, $60,000. Issa had previously loaned money to Adkins and had been repaid.

But this time, Adkins asked for a few more weeks to repay the loan–and Issa says he agreed.

Within days, however, Issa went to a judge and–under an Ohio law that did not require the debtor to be present–won a judgment for the outstanding $60,000.

Issa promptly called Adkins at home to declare that he now owned his auto security company, Adkins recalled. “I was completely floored,” he said.

Next, Issa used thuggish tactics to get rid of company executive Jack Franz.

According to Frantz, Issa came into his office, placed a small box on the desk and opened it. Inside, he said, was a gun.

“He just showed it to me and said ‘You know what this is?’ ” Frantz said.

Issa invited Frantz to hold the gun at one point and told him he had learned about guns and explosives during his military days, Frantz said. Because he was about to be fired, Frantz said he saw it as “pure intimidation.”

The bookkeeper, Brasdovich, also recalled Issa having a gun at the company that day. “It was pretty terrifying,” she said.

In 1985, Issa moved to Southern California when his business was bought out by a San Diego company, Astro-Guard, that made home alarms. Issa partnered with Astro-Guard’s Bob Raines, briefly until the two parted ways over a financial dispute. According to the LA Times,

Raines maintains that Issa tried to run the company into the ground after Raines refused to sell out.

The two parted ways in a split that Issa described as “amicable.”

But Raines says now: “He’s a real operator. He’s so shrewd. I wouldn’t have any personal dealings with him again.” Raines said he survived the split only by selling off his boat and his motor home and spending $100,000 in retirement money.

Issa then started his own car alarm company Directed Electronics, Inc. (his initials are DEI). He became famous for developing a car alarm system called “Viper,” which instead of a siren uses “a recording in Issa’s voice that says ‘Please step away from the car.'”

In 2003, Issa was the main financial backer of the successful effort to recall California governor Gray Davis. Issa donated $1.6 million of his own money to the cause, and then tried to run for governor himself. That may not be illegal, but it certainly seems inappropriate to me–to invest your own money to remove a governor so you can take the job? But Issa couldn’t catch on with the voters, against his primary opponent and the eventual winner, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

There is much much more to be concerned about in Issa’s recent history as a politician, but this post is getting way too long. Suffice it to say that Darrell Issa is very likely one of those “psychopaths in charge” that I wrote about recently. And now he’s the guy who will be “investigating” the government. Will Obama and his “Chicago way” gang be up to the challenge?

35 Comments on “New Chairman of House Oversight Committee Lacks Moral Gravitas (To Put It Mildly)”

  1. bostonboomer says:

    Wait until you hear about Issa’s questionable dealings with Goldman Sachs.

  2. Woman Voter says:

    I am speechless, just speechless and this is one of those GOPers that won’t give minors a chance before being looped in the PRISON Wall Street Billed System for ever for stealing a slice of pizza. I guess second, third, fourth…chances are just for the Issa’s in the GOP.

    Sheesh, do the Tea Party people know the are being used?

    As to calling The Ptresident Corrupt, Daryl Issa knew exactly what he was saying and he knows darn well what he said and is doing the back peddling to look nicey nice. They are going to waste time (why isn’t he investigating the WMDs meme that got us into the Iraq WAR?) while his GOP minions in Arizona and soon in other States leave citizens to die without health care.

  3. HT says:

    Sounds like Issa has finally found his niche – and isn’t that the saddest statement about the U.S. government.

  4. dakinikat says:

    There is some extremely sad and upsetting news coming out of Arizona.

    Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Arizona, shot at grocery store in Tucson, Arizona, according to Tucson Citizen newspaper.

    U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona was shot outside a grocery store in Tucson while holding a public event, Arizona Public Media reported Saturday.

    The Democrat, who was re-elected to her third term in November, was hosting a “Congress on Your Corner” event at the Safeway in northwest Tucson when a gunman ran up and started shooting, according to Peter Michaels, news director of Arizona Public Media.

    At least five other people, including members of her staff, were hurt. Giffords was transported to University Medical Center in Tucson. Her condition was not immediately known.

  5. paper doll says:

    According to Frantz, Issa came into his office, placed a small box on the desk and opened it. Inside, he said, was a gun.

    “He just showed it to me and said ‘You know what this is?’ ” Frantz said.

    Oh he fits right in with the other gangsters . GOP have such a sense of humor. They routinely put people in charge of something when they themselves should be the first order of business to look into… like coal people in charge of the EPA etc…oh that side splitting Repug humor!

  6. Delphyne says:

    BB – you ought to be a sleuth. You’re fantastic at digging up this stuff on people. With your tenacity and psychology background, you would rival Sherlock Holmes!

    Issa sounds like he’d be right at home in Chicago, too. I left California in October 2003 and my last vote in that State was against Issa’s recall of Gov. Davis. I thought Issa was pond scum back then and now, after reading your post, see he is worse than I thought.

    • bostonboomer says:

      Thanks, Delphyne. I’m so glad a few people read the post before the shocking breaking news about the shootings in Arizona. I spent several days researching and writing this. I hope some people will check it out later on.

  7. dakinikat says:

    I’ve just followed about 1/4 of the the links so far and I already need a shower. And this man called Obama corrupt? How can people send a guy like this to represent them in Congress and what did we do to get him shoved on us via position like this!

    There should be a letter campaign started to the Weeper of the House to have him removed!!!

  8. dwp says:

    Issa’s car stealing days is no secret in southern California. In his earlier commercials, and in interviews when he was trying to unseat CA Gov Davis, he touts his car theft days as the reason his alarm company’s products are so effective… it’s because he knows the ins and outs of car thievery.

    Issa was sure he’d be the next gov of CA, but then, Arnold Alois Schwarzenegger showed up and all Issa could do was cry (literally).

    • bostonboomer says:

      Car theft is the least of Issa’s crimes. Now that he is rich, he no longer gets arrested, but in his business affairs he has behaved like a thug and he’s doing the same in Congress.

  9. dakinikat says:

    This is great bostonboomer. There’s a lot of evidence out there but it doesn’t look like any MSM paper has actually PUT IT ALL TOGETHER like you’ve done. This guy shouldn’t even be on the street let alone in public office. Talk about your questionable ethics!! This guy seems to have made his money by scamming insurance companies and stealing from people.

    This is just fabulous detective work!!

    • bostonboomer says:

      Thanks, Dak. I appreciate you reading it.

      I’m so depressed now listening to the news about Rep. Gifford and all the other people who were senselessly injured or killed. What is happening to our country?

      • dakinikat says:

        I just found this really fascinating. I hope people take time to read the entire thing and follow some of the links. This guy is a crook! He makes Richard Nixon and William Jefferson look clean!

  10. NW Luna says:

    Thanks for the detailed background on Issa. Even before this, knowing he bought his way in using part of that net worth of 250 million and strong-arming returns of favors, we could not expect him to represent the people making $25K/yr.

    In NW Luna’s dream world, there are upper limits on income/assets for the people’s elected representatives.

    • bostonboomer says:

      I agree. We should have ordinary citizen representatives, not be ruled by the superrich. Thanks so much for reading.

  11. HT says:

    BB, you did a great job pulling together all the information. I look forward to more. Thank you for your extraordinary efforts. BTW, love the gravatar. You look so intelligent and happy.

  12. Boo Radly says:

    Boston – you are a gifted researcher, then have a wonderful way of presenting the information. Thanks for this post – once again, gut level feelings are validated. I commend you and the other front pagers who “go under the rocks to find all the facts” and still stay the course everyday.

    To bad Issa is not one of a kind. Sounds Like Bu$h without the family money.

  13. Woman Voter says:

    Can you check to see if I am in the spam filter?

  14. Sima says:

    My first reaction is disbelief. Have we sunk this low? Really, honestly? This is what the great country of America has come to? Electing thugs…

    My second reaction is to wonder if it’s not been the times since WWII that were unusual in being exceptionally clean (not that they were) and with more people who wanted to serve. I don’t know. It’s probably too rosy a vision.

    How on earth are we going to clean house?

  15. kiki says:

    wow, great research BB. how does a person like this get elected? other people’s political careers never take off because of something like smoking a joint in college, and this guy thrives? it makes no sense.

    I can’t help but think of all the young black men who are spending years and years incarcerated for much less than this. yikes…