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Issa was accused of car theft, misstating Army record

Darrell IssaWikimedia CommonsDarrell Issa

Since the GOP swept to victory in November’s congressional elections, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, has been in the national media spotlight.

As incoming chairman of the House’s chief investigative committee, Issa vowed to paper the government with a flurry of subpoenas. He told Rush Limbaugh that President Obama was “one of the most corrupt presidents in modern times.” On CNN, he backpedaled slightly, saying he meant to call Obama’s administration corrupt.

Issa could become Obama’s “chief congressional antagonist,” the Los Angeles Times wrote. Issa is “planning to expand scrutiny of the Obama administration by seeking new subpoena powers,” the New York Times reported. He’ll investigate everything from “corruption in Afghanistan” to how WikiLeaks got diplomatic cables, the Washington Post said.

For its own story on Issa’s prospects as chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, the New Yorker magazine decided to read Issa’s California press clippings.

The result is a brittle portrait of a former car alarm magnate whose background is littered with controversy: arrests for gun possession and car theft; accusations of arson; apparent misrepresentations of his military record.

California Watch summarized Issa’s problematic past in a post last year.

The millionaire manufacturer of the “Viper” line of car alarms, Issa ran for the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate in 1998 in hopes of taking on Barbara Boxer.

But before the primary, the Los Angeles Times reported that Issa had obtained control of his company amidst “accusations of underhanded tactics and intimidation (and) a suspected arson.” Issa also had been arrested on suspicion of stealing a Maserati in his hometown of Cleveland, but the charges were dropped, the newspaper reported.

Soon after that, the San Francisco Examiner challenged Issa's claims about his Army record.

Issa said he was part of an elite unit that guarded President Richard Nixon at the 1971 baseball World Series. But Nixon didn’t go to the World Series, the newspaper wrote, and Issa’s service was marred by “a bad conduct rating, a demotion and allegations he had stolen a fellow soldier’s car.”

Issa lost the Republican primary but later was elected to Congress. In 2003, he helped bankroll the recall of Gov. Gray Davis while gearing up to run for the office himself.

But the San Francisco Chronicle reported that in 1980, Issa and his brother had been charged with car theft in Santa Clara County. Police said Issa, then a lieutenant in the army, had conspired with his brother to fake the theft of Issa’s Mercedes, which they then sold. The charges were dropped. The newspaper also reported that as a young man Issa had been arrested twice on misdemeanor weapons charges.

In the end, it was Arnold Schwarzenegger, not Issa, who ran for governor in the Davis recall.

In response to the stories, Issa denied wrongdoing. The Maserati theft and arson accusations were baseless, the LA Times quoted him as saying, and the Examiner said Issa denied misrepresenting his military record. Issa told the Chronicle that his brother was solely responsible for the incident involving the theft of the Mercedes, and he complained it was unfair to dredge up the gun arrests.

The New Yorker piece contained some new explanations. The report about Nixon and the World Series occurred because “a writer had misunderstood an anecdote,” the magazine wrote. But The Examiner piece had quoted from an Issa campaign biographical sketch in which Issa claimed he was “detailed to the Army security team that travelled with President Nixon.”

To the New Yorker, Issa also derided the soldier who accused him of stealing his car from a post in Pennsylvania, saying the man had an “alcohol problem” and suggesting he made a false allegation while in a “drunken stupor.”

The soldier, 1st Sgt. Jay Bergey, died in 2002. But in 1998, he told the Examiner that after his car disappeared from the post, “I confronted Issa. … I got in his face and threatened to kill him, and magically my car reappeared.”

Issa’s mother, on a subsequent visit to the base, “basically admitted that my car had been in Cleveland,” the soldier said.

The New Yorker piece also featured an interview with Kurt Bardella, 27, Issa’s press spokesman. He said he found it easy to work with reporters to his boss' advantage.

“Some people in the press, I think, are just lazy as hell,” he is quoted as saying. “There are times when I pitch a story and they do it word for word. ... I think most reporters have liked me packaging things for them.”

For his part, Lizza went on the Hugh Hewitt show and explained the interview, telling Hewett: "I think he’s pretty damned smart, and I think that’s partly the reason that leadership had the confidence in him to chair that committee, despite them having to know that there are a number of controversies in his past that always come up when he’s sort of reached a certain level in politics."



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