As we watch U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, whom Calbuzz first got to know during the 1998 Republican primary for U.S. Senate (won by Matt Fong, who later lost to Sen. Barbara Boxer), we keep wondering why our colleagues in the Washington press corps have not figured out the truth about this guy: he’s a thug.
Having landed by hook and by crook as chairman of the House Oversight Committee, he has used his position to investigate the Obama administration’s every move from Benghazi to Cincinnati, coming up empty at every turn and, along the way, embarrassing himself, the Republican caucus, the House of Representatives and, oh yeah, the state of California.
Issa is a wealthy bully and proven liar with a checkered personal history featuring criminal and civil legal proceedings that involve car thefts, concealed weapons charges and allegations of insurance arson, among his other sterling qualifications for high office. A reasonable man might imagine a less wealthy person perched in Stony Lonesome rather than on the dais of a prestigious and powerful congressional committee.
None of Issa’s past, um, indiscretions are a secret, at least since May 1998, when Lance Williams, then of the San Francisco Examiner, began reporting on the guy. Given that his shady past was admirably re-collated by Ryan Lizza in a 2011 New Yorker profile, Issa’s lies and prominent roles in a long train of extra-legal abuses should be well known to esteemed Washington press hounds who spend their days smooching his expensively draped derriere.
Cliff’s Notes rap sheet: Here’s a compilation of Issa’s dealings, lifting from Lizza’s New Yorker profile, titled “Don’t Look Back,” which borrowed from Lance Williams’s reporting, which itself leaned on Ace Smith’s 1998 opposition research.
— He lied that he had won Inc.’s national Entrepreneur of the Year award; he won a regional prize in San Diego and was one of a few hundred nominees for the national award.
— He lied that he had received “the highest possible ratings” while in the Army; at one point he “received unsatisfactory conduct and efficiency ratings and was transferred to a supply depot.”
— In 1971, he stole Jay Bergey’s yellow Dodge Charger which was found abandoned on a highway after Bergey confronted and threatened Issa. No charges were filed.
— On March 15, 1972, Ohio police arrested Issa and his older brother, William, and charged them with stealing a red Maserati from a Cleveland showroom. The judge eventually dismissed the case.
— While the Maserati case was pending, on December 1, 1972, two police officers on patrol in the small town of Adrian, Ohio, stopped Issa driving a yellow Volkswagen the wrong way down a one-way street and found a .25-calibre Colt automatic inside a box of ammunition, along with a “military pouch” that contained “44 rounds of ammo and a tear gas gun and two rounds of ammo for it.” Issa was arrested for carrying a concealed weapon. Issa pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of possession of an unregistered gun. He paid a small fine and was sentenced to six months’ probation.
— According to court records, on December 28, 1979, brother William Issa sold Darrell’s red 1976 Mercedes sedan to Smythe European Motors, in San Jose for $16,000. Soon afterward, Darrell reported the car stolen from the Monterey airport. He later told the police that he had left the title in the trunk. The brothers were indicted for grand theft. Darrell argued that he had no knowledge of William’s activities; William claimed that his brother had authorized him to sell the car, and he produced a document dated a few weeks before the robbery that gave him power of attorney over his brother’s affairs. On February 15th, with the investigation ongoing, Darrell returned to the San Jose dealership and repurchased his car, for $17,000. In August, 1980, the prosecution dropped the case.
— In January, 1981, at an intersection in Cleveland, Issa crashed a truck into a 1959 Thunderbird Classic driven by Juanita Martin, 44. According to court documents, Issa told her that he did not have time to wait for the police and left the scene. Martin ended up in the emergency room the next day with neck and back pain that she said caused “permanent damage.” A month later, she sued Issa for $20,000; they settled for an undisclosed amount.
— At about 2:30 am, September 7, 1982, Issa’s Quantum and Steal Stopper office went up in flames. A fire-analysis report commissioned by the St. Paul insurance company, and dated October 19, 1982, a month after the incident, concluded that the fire was “incendiary.” The report cited “suspicious burn patterns,” such as “two separate major areas of origin,” and it said, “No accidental source of heating power was located at either of these two major areas of origin.” The manner in which stacks of cardboard boxes burned was inconsistent with an accidental fire. A flammable liquid appeared to have been poured over the boxes. The blue flames seen emanating from the roof were evidence, according to the investigators, of burning carbon monoxide that is produced when an accelerant like gasoline ignites. The black smoke was also a clue. “Such black smoke normally occurs in a fire only when a hydrocarbon is burning,” the report said. When investigators tested burn damage from inside the factory, they found “the same identical mixture of flammable hydrocarbons” in four samples taken from diverse locations.
On Sept 20, 1982, in an interview with an insurance investigator, Joey Adkins, the former owner of Steal Stopper, said Issa had removed the company’s Apple II computer from the building, including “all hardware, all software, all the instruction books,” and also “the discs for accounts payable, accounts receivable, customer list, everything.” According to Adkins, Issa also transferred a copy of every design used by Steal Stopper from a filing cabinet to a fireproof box. He also said that Issa put in the box some important silk screens used in the production of circuit boards. Insurance officials noted that, less than three weeks before the fire, Issa had increased his insurance from a hundred thousand dollars to four hundred and sixty-two thousand dollars. “Quite frankly,” Adkins told the investigator, “I feel the man set the fire.”
The Ohio state fire marshal never determined the cause of the fire and no one was ever charged with a crime. According to Issa, St. Paul paid Quantum twenty-five thousand dollars, but refused to pay his claim for the Steal Stopper inventory. Issa sued St. Paul for a hundred and seventy-five thousand dollars, and the two parties eventually settled out of court for about twenty thousand dollars.
(Ours is a measured compilation. For a more colorful rendition, check here.) So the next time you see Rep. Darrell Issa on “Meet the Press” or Fox News or any other national media outlet, you might wonder in a quiet moment, “Why is this man not in jail?”
Iconic, post-ironic headline history: As all Calbuzz news junkies of a certain age will instantly recall, that thought, as memorialized in today’s headline, is a journalistic tribute to one of the more famous Page One screamers of all time: “Why Isn’t Sam Sheppard in Jail?”
It was Fourth of July weekend of 1954, when Marilyn Sheppard, the elegant wife of the wealthy Dr. Sam Sheppard, was brutally murdered in the couple’s bedroom in the high-end Northeast Ohio suburb of Bay Village. Working at warp speed, and with a massive assist from what would now be called “the local media,” Cleveland cops, prosecutors and judges
railroaded convicted Sheppard on a life sentence that lasted only 10 years before the Supreme Court tossed it, in large part because of what they called “the carnival atmosphere” of his arrest and trial as fomented by the gentlemen and (very few) ladies of the press.
Exhibits A, B, Z and ZZZ in the Supremes’ decision were culled from the columns of the now defunct Cleveland Press, a fiercely aggressive afternoon paper which printed 399 pieces on the case in six months, and which shaped public opinion and pressured local law enforcement types in the days immediately after the sensational killing with a relentless drumbeat of Page One editorials sporting headlines like, “Getting Away with Murder,” “Why Don’t Police Quiz Top Suspect?” and, most infamously, “Why Isn’t Sam Sheppard In Jail?”
At least one future Calbuzzer, despite his tender years at the time, has a clear recollection of “The Press,” festooned with that bold, black hedder, landing on the apartment stoop around 4 p.m. on Friday, July 30, about six hours before Cleveland’s finest followed the newspaper’s calm and reasoned argument and hauled the man — whom the copy desk invariably referred to as “Dr. Sam” — down to the hoosegow. (Speaking of copy editors and other nit-pickers, we hasten to add that the headline was changed in post-home delivery editions to read, “Quit Stalling — Bring Him In”.)
So, 59 years later, we appropriate that headline, in a post-ironic usage of aesthetic homage, in celebration of America’s extraordinary press freedoms, no matter how abused, because we are nothing if not post-ironic guys. Your mileage may vary.