Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) Does a Classic Non-Denial Denial of His Corrupt Behavior

It is probably impossible to make any story about U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa(R-CA) interesting. Even though Issa has been plagued by charges of corruption, ethics violations and using his committee to political office to pursue purely political attacks rather than genuine ethics violations by others. As a conservative Issa is guilty of the usual assortment of ad hominem attacks on the opposition, rumor mongering scare mongering, making tiny stories about Democrats into mountains and making disturbing actions by fellow conservatives into mere mole hills. In other words one of the most corrupt, unethical and just plain weird people to ever serve in Congress has the conservative playbook memorized to the letter. Issa and his apologists are very upset about this NYT profile – A Businessman in Congress Helps His District and Himself. That story did contain an obvious error which the NYT corrected as follows,

Correction: August 16, 2011 An article on Monday about the business empire of Representative Darrell Issa, Republican of California, misstated the worth of the companies involved in his splitting up of a holding company. The split entailed separate multimillion-dollar companies, not multibillion-dollar ones.(emphasis mine)

before we move on to Issa’s complaints about that story I find the level of outrage by Issa and the Right contains equal parts shrill tragic comedy and deeply hypocritical. We live in Rupert Murdoch’s world of Fox News, The Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal where falsehoods are turned out faster than cheap factory hard candy. We have an internet with sites such as Human Events and Commentary which spew factless falsehoods like their was a world shortage and they are out to save us all with more stories about Obama’s birth certificate or Bill Clinton’s Arkansas mob. Conservatives have a relationship of inconvenience when it comes to facts. Facts are generally horrible things when it comes to conservatives, their actions and their agenda. When it comes to simply taking an honest look at conservatives if you do not have every I dotted, every T crossed, that axiomatically means everything you say is a lie. Such is the case with the NYT story. The larger story is true, but some details may not have been told as well they they could have been. In his reply to the NYT Issa has doubled down somewhat by fudging on the truth. What are Isaa’s problems with the story. I’ll do them one by one with some background.

Issa itemizes thirteen errors as to which he has requested that the Times issue corrections: * The title, “Helping His District and Himself” implies that Rep. Issa has engaged in self-dealing. The only evidence the story offers for this assertion are factually flawed assertions.

In addition to his regular responsibilities as a Congressional Representative Issa is the Chairman of Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. In both duties there are plenty of potential for abuse as Issa is one of the few members of Congress that has not put his business interests in a blind trust. he actively manages those businesses while he votes on issues that pertain to them and that might affect their profitability. As the McClatchy-Tribune News Service notes in an editorial Issa should have seen the public’s suspicious coming considering the circumstances - Rep. Issa’s empire is ripe for conflicts

On his congressional website, Issa calls the New York Times article a “hit job” riddled with factual errors. The Times has corrected one mistake. The newspaper says it “misstated the worth of companies involved in his (Issa’s) splitting up of a holding company.” But the larger substance of the article has not been challenged. That is – Issa continues to run his expansive business empire while also serving as a member of Congress. Other congressmen with similar wealth have put their holdings into blind trusts to avoid even the appearance of impropriety. Issa has not. That raises obvious questions of conflict. It’s impossible to know when Issa’s official actions are intended to benefit the American people, his constituents or his own narrow self-interest. In addition, given the extent of his involvement in his private business, his ability to devote sufficient attention or energy to his congressional duties is called into question. After all, serving in Congress is supposed to be a full-time job.

Issa’s second objection to the article,

* The lede, “Here on the third floor of a gleaming office building overlooking a golf course in the rugged foothills north of San Diego, Darrell Issa, the entrepreneur, oversees the hub of a growing financial empire worth hundreds of millions of dollars.” The building where Rep. Issa’s office is located does not overlook a golf course as the reporter Eric Lichtblau implies he personally observed.

Anyone can use Google maps to see that Issa’s office building ( though not his office, which the NYT did not specify) is close to the Shadowridge Country Club Gulf Course. The website for Issa’s building states the building comes “with direct views to golf driving range.” maybe many people in the building cannot see the course, but one can certainly see the building from the course. is this the terrible wrong that Issa has been done. It seems like a lame compliant. The NYT and other newspapers have been using ledes like that for years. I wish they’d stop, but that does not mean they are factually wrong and in this case not especially significant.

* “Mr. Issa has … split a holding company into separate multibillion-dollar businesses.” Rep. Issa does not own a single multi-billion business (The Times has issued a correction for this error).

As noted the NYT has corrected this part. Americans who care about ethics are still waiting for the Right to correct the billions of lies they not only tell, but repeat without shame.

* “As his private wealth and public power have grown, so too has the overlap between his private and business lives, with at least some of the congressman’s government actions helping to make a rich man even richer and raising the potential for conflicts.” The only examples the New York Times raises of Rep. Issa’s public actions benefiting his private holdings are the erroneous examples previously noted.

The rest of us see the potential for conflict and actual conflict ( details to follow), Issa don’t see nut’in. Which is actually part of the problem. Issa, like so many conservatives are incapable of honest self-assessment. How can someone chair an ethics committee and not see where there might be the potential for conflict for anyone conducting business deals affected by legislation you vote on. Blind trusts are not perfect. You can still vote on legislation that benefits you, but at least your hands are not on one side of the equation.

* “In one case, more than $800,000 in earmarks he arranged will help widen a busy thoroughfare in front of a medical plaza he bought for $10.3 million.” The story erroneously reports the property’s purchase price which was, in fact, $16.6 million. It also fails to mention that at the time he sought funding for his district he did not own this property.

This is what the NYT wrote,

He has secured millions of dollars in Congressional earmarks for road work and public works projects that promise improved traffic and other benefits to the many commercial properties he owns here north of San Diego. In one case, more than $800,000 in earmarks he arranged will help widen a busy thoroughfare in front of a medical plaza he bought for $10.3 million. His constituents cheer the prospect of easing traffic. At the same time, the value of the medical complex and other properties has soared, at least in part because of the government-sponsored road work.

I agree the NYT could have been clearer. Issa and his company paid $10.3 million and assumption of a July 1999 loan originally for $6.8 million. The outstanding balance was $6.27 million.They should have included the loan assumption. One blogger (AssRocket at Powerline) says that as such Issa has not profited at all from the acquisition because the property tax assessment on the property is still $16.6 million. OK we’ll round off and say the tax assessment of $16,560,657 is $16.6. Does AssRocket own a home or any business property. Anyway, the assessment value of a property is frequently based on market value, but if the property were put on the market today, especially with the new roads, it is not unreasonable to think they would get more for the Vista building on the open market( the building’s office space is fully rented). It is also true that assessment value cannot exceed market value. Issa is not being honest in his complaint. The complaint itself is an admission that he has purposely left out what the market price would be if he were to sell it tomorrow. Since the assessment value has not gone up substantially Issa claims that is proof the earmarks for road construction he asked for and voted on did not benefit him personally. First the obvious, he hasn’t sold the property yet, so that is at minimum an open question. We also do not know how much he has benefited by way of income from the building. If Issa is only as good a businessman as the average dilettante he is charging more in rent than he is paying on the mortgage ( small loan+property tax costs in this case). So again I detect some false outrage combined with withholding facts on Issa’s part. Issa says that the earmarks are not an ethical issue. TPro’s timeline and Issa himself says differently.

– February 20, 2008: According to the letter provided by Issa’s office, the San Diego Association of Governments requested $2 million in taxpayer earmarks for widening and improving the West Vista Way road in Vista, California. – March 4, 2008: Issa releases the list of over $200 million in earmark requests that includes the $2 million request for the improvements on West Vista Way. – October 8, 2008: Issa negotiates the purchase of the Vista Medical Plaza for $16.6 million. The building is situated next to West Vista Way and along the area where the earmarked improvements are targeted. – February 2009: A few months after closing the deal on his multi-million dollar Vista Medical Plaza office building, Issa pushes for his West Vista Way earmark in the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009. Unlike any of Issa’s other earmarks, Issa secured two separate earmarks for West Vista Way into the bill: one for $245,000 and another for $570,000. – February 2009: Although Issa publicly listed over $200 million in earmarks for the FY2009 budget, he only secured a few. He did not obtain a million dollar Boys and Girl grant, nor did he secure one for a flood control grant in his district. Out of all of the earmarks he publicly listed, the West Vista Way one seemed to fair better than most. – March 11, 2009: President Obama signs the Omnibus into law, granting a total of $815,000 to the West Vista Way project for Issa. Issa later begins advertising his Vista Medical Plaza and its “Excellent Access with Freeway Visibility.” As we noted yesterday, Issa has said that an “earmark is tantamount to a bribe.” Issa’s fellow House Republicans in the San Diego area have a long history of earmark related scandals. Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA) got caught enriching himself off of land deals boosted by the earmarking process. Former Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-CA) was embroiled in a similar controversy.

Issa, according not to the NYT, but to himself says that he used bribes to provide what common sense says is a propriety improvement that will increase the future value of property he owns.

* “But beyond specific actions that appear to have clearly benefited his businesses, Mr. Issa’s interests are so varied that some of the biggest issues making their way through Congress affect him in some way.” The New York Times fails to provide accurate examples of “specific actions that appear to have clearly benefited his businesses.”

The earmarks are concrete enough unless one has a tendency not to see elephants when they walk into a room.

* “After the forced sale of Merrill Lynch in 2008, for instance, he publicly attacked the Treasury Department’s handling of the deal without mentioning that Merrill had handled hundreds of millions of dollars in investments for him and lent him many millions more.” The New York Times fails to note that Rep. Issa’s transactions with Merrill Lynch have been appropriately disclosed in his annual ethics filing.

This is what is called a classic non-denial denial. he doesn’t deny there was a conflict, only that he has filed his relationship with Merrill on an annual ethics filing. Even a few conservative probably fell out of their chair laughing after reading that one.

While Issa fought to block the SEC investigation of Goldman Sachs, he quietly bought $600,000 worth of Goldman Sachs bonds. While Issa was accusing the Treasury of a “cover-up” in their role in Bank of America’s purchase of Merrill Lynch, he didn’t mention that he had completed transactions with Merrill Lynch totaling $1 billion over the last decade. Many of Issa’s staffers epitomize the K-Street ‘revolving door.’

Pardon us rubes if we see a certain Congressman’s fingerprints all over the money and assume that just maybe he is using his authority to get back at people he feels done him wrong. Issa again,

   * “Then, Mr. Issa brushed aside suggestions that his electronics company’s role as a major supplier of alarms to Toyota made him go easy on the automaker as he led an investigation into the recalls.” Rep. Issa’s former company is not a supplier to Toyota.

yes it is true that DEI Holdings(Issa’s company) does not have a direct contract with Toyota. They sell aftermarkets parts which Toyota uses on its cars. Legislation that affects Toyota would affect DEI’s bottom line. Conservatives like to claim they are the business experts and all the sudden they claim to be utterly naive think the rest of us are dumb as pumpkins. Issa and others have cleverly claimed( well for conservatives hiding something its clever) that Issa does does run Direct Electronics anymore. The problem with that is he is on their Broad of Directors and has a financial stake in how the company does.

  * “In one 2008 sale, months before the stock market crashed, his family foundation earned $357,000 on an initial investment of less than $19,000 — a return of nearly 1,900 percent in just seven months, the foundation reported to the Internal Revenue Service.” This assertion is based on an incorrect document. The actual purchase price was not $19,000, but $500,000 and resulted in a $125,000 loss. * “That suggests the foundation may have acquired the shares from a third-party broker.” This assertion is based on the false 1900 percent claim.

Foundations and their taxes are difficult to investigate. Issa may have something here unless the NYT can supply some documentation for those numbers. lastly,

* “Mr. Issa is keenly interested in Goldman’s performance.” This statement lacks a basis in fact as Rep. Issa does not have investments dependent on Goldman Sach’s performance.

Yea sure, While Fighting To Block SEC Investigation Of Goldman Sachs, Rep. Darrell Issa Bought Goldman Sachs Bonds

Issa went on a buying spree of high yield Goldman Sachs bonds at the same time he was running defense for the investment bank in Congress. From February to December of 2010, Issa bought 12 Goldman Sachs High Yield Fund Class A bonds, each worth up to $50,000 (view page 10 the disclosure here). Many of the bonds were purchased in the months after he filed his letter to the SEC. The $600,000 in new Goldman Sachs investments added to Issa’s multimillion dollar accounts managed by the company, valued from $5.1 to $15.5 million.

Issa has used his office to pursue frivolous and politically motivated investigations - Politico Compares Darrell Issa to John Belushi as Upton Disses His Investigation of Obama’s Fuel Economy Deal

Last Friday, California Republican Darrell Issa called for an investigation into the negotiations between the Obama Administration and auto companies in the lead-up to an historic increase in fuel efficiency for America’s fleet of trucks and cars. [  ]…Other Republican leaders in the House aren’t going along with this “green scare” tactic. Congressman Fred Upton, Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, is featured in Politico’s Morning Energy with this snarky headline: “We’ve not decided to take that [Issa investigation] course,” Upton said. “We’ve had some discussions with the auto companies. They believe. They signed the letters of intent. And we’ll see how it plays out.”

The revoling door of lobbyists in D.C. does not reflect well on either party, but Issa, the chairman of a committee that should be setting a better example acts as though he could care less about changing the game – Top Staffer for Rep. Issa’s Committee Maintains Financial Relationship With Lobbying Group More abuse of his authority – Issa Admits He Has No Proof For His Conspiracy That Obama White House Is Colluding With SEC After Leading Bush Admin Charge To Kill FOIA( Freedom of Information Act), Issa Issues First Subpoena On Obama FOIA

In January, Issa made clear that he intends to scrutinize logs of FOIA information, possibly revealing the identities of various journalists and citizens who have issued requests to the government. As the New York Times has noted, Issa’s “extraordinary” demand “worries some civil libertarians” and could have a chilling effect to journalists. While Issa’s spokesmen have brushed aside criticism and claimed that the chairman’s purpose is aimed at improving government responses to the FOIA process, Issa’s personal record on FOIA undercuts his credibility. During the Bush administration, Issa was a loyal partisan who repeatedly tried to crush attempts at expanding FOIA and greater government transparency, even at the DHS, his current subpoena target…

A conservative taking two opposing views on an issue in order to carry out a bitter partisan agenda. Just par for the course. As Issa has found a new love for FOIA he has played the other side as well. Arguing aginst more government transparency – Transparency

Yesterday the House Committees on Government Oversight and Reform and Small Business held a joint hearing entitled, “Politicizing Procurement: Will President Obama’s Proposal Curb Free Speech and Hurt Small Business?”  The irony of this title was not lost on us, nor most others.  The hearing was ostensibly held to address a draft executive order currently being considered by the Obama administration that would require government contractors to disclose political contributions before receiving government contracts, something CREW strongly supports.  For more background on the proposed executive order, see here.  Taking a page out of his standard play book, however, Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) once again used his power as head of the Oversight Committee to politicize the legislative process.  This time he refused the request of Ranking Member Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD) to allow the one witness who supports the administration’s draft executive order to testify. It is no surprise the House Oversight and Government Reform and Small Business Committees would hold a hearing on this change in policy, even if quite frankly it is a rather modest step.  But by vetoing the one witness requested by the minority – something CREW has experienced firsthand — Chairman Issa revealed the true political motivation underlying the hearing – skewering the public record to support his, and his party’s, opposition to the executive order.  Ironically, Chairman Issa is the co-founder of the Bipartisan Transparency Caucus and loves to tout how “sunlight is the best disinfectant.”  Yesterday “Mr. Transparency” simultaneously denied the public a truly informative hearing with diverse views on the proposal and turned reality on its head by – to quote Rep. Cummings – making sunlight the “infectant.” Unchecked by any counterbalancing testimony, the committee members were free to spin and spew misinformation and fear mongering.  One tired distortion heard repeatedly yesterday, for example, is that President Obama secretly wants to misuse the new disclosure information to create a “Nixonian” enemies list.  President Obama has no role in the procurement process, and the draft executive order explicitly states that every stage of the contracting process must be “free from the undue influence of factors extraneous to the underlying merits of contracting decision making, such as political activity or political favoritism.” The notion that federal contracting officers would use the new disclosures required by the draft executive order to punish foes by awarding or withholding government contracts is absolute malarkey.  In the extremely unlikely case that contracting officials would abuse their authority in this way, this draft executive order would allow the public to hold our public officials accountable. As far as CREW is concerned, yesterday’s hearing only served to tarnish the integrity of the committee and therefore disserved the American public.

If the public is getting the impression that Darell Issa is corrupt, dishonest, a hypocrite, a partisan sniper wasting tax dollars, whose fault is that, Issa or the NYT. Issa could resign from his committee assignments. Ask for a special ethics investigations into his activities and according his his accounts anyway, clear his name. I wouldn’t take bets on that happening. And House Speaker John Boehner(R-OH) has too many skeletons in his closet to force Issa out.

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