How Ace Inc. Aims to Ice Grand Inquisitor Issa


Hopelessly hardcore California political junkies will recall the travail of the late Democratic Assemblyman Carmen Perino, who once suffered the indignity of witnessing his campaign manager’s arrest in a notorious murder-for-hire case in Stockton.

Reacting to the news of his key adviser being taken into custody in connection with a contract killing, Perino famously commented: “What he does on his own time is his own business.”

His off-the-cuff, see-no-evil comment came to mind this week, as Calbuzz mulled the matter of Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Unindicted, another cagey pol whose public career bears the stain of private scandal.

At the moment, Issa is the GOP’s It-Man, an erstwhile comic figure and back-bencher whose profile has remarkably and suddenly soared in his new role as the powerful chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

It’s a perch from which he’s proclaimed his plan to serve as Chief Inquisitor of the Obama Administration, launching at his whim investigations of what he told Rush Limbaugh is “one of the most corrupt Presidents in modern times.” And, by extension, to launch his own bid to be treated by the Beltway’s mediaocracy as a Serious Person to be reckoned with, to hear Kurt Bardella, his peach-fuzzed flack, tell it to the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza:

“My goal is very simple,” (Bardella) said. “I’m going to make Darrell Issa an actual political figure. I’m going to focus like a laser beam on the five hundred people here who care about this crap, and that’s it. We’ve been catering more to that audience, so Darrell can expand his sphere of influence here among people who track who’s up, who’s down, who wins, who loses. Then we can broaden that to something more tangible afterward.”

Such a modest young man.

Alas for the boss of the unfortunate Bardella, however, Issa’s ambitious self-reinvention and reclamation project faces a considerable political challenge, at least in his home state: overcoming his own biography.

From his expensive, but spectacularly failed, 1998 bid for the U.S. Senate to his short-lived 2003 pursuit of the governorship (after successfully bankrolling the recall of Gray Davis), the public memory of Issa in California bristles with words like “arrest,” “indictment,” “arson,” “concealed weapons” and “stolen cars.”

We admit that we’re hopelessly old-school about this kind of thing. Still, we can’t help but wonder at the wisdom of congressional Republicans investing their party’s mantle of moral authority in  a guy who took out a special, short-term, ginned-up fire insurance policy for his business, which mysteriously was burned down by a mysterious arsonist just a few mysterious weeks after.

Truth be told, Calbuzz has spent the last few, entertaining hours chuckling our way through the exhaustively and impeccably researched, 148 original source pages of “The Issa Files,” which documents in excruciating detail the evidence surrounding the 1982 fire that destroyed Issa’s Maple Heights, Ohio based (Go Mustangs!) company, the ashes from which arose his subsequent zillion dollar success in the car burglar alarm business.

As every schoolboy knows by now, the Issa volume was produced by a newly minted independent expenditure outfit called “Third Lantern” (see Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth), wrangled by Ace Smith, the redoubtable prince of the dark arts of campaign oppo research.

“As Congressman Issa begins his frivolous investigations, The Third Lantern will conduct our own examination of Mr. Issa’s behavior and prove he lacks credibility as a Congressional investigator,” our old friend Ace opined, in releasing the material. “The Third Lantern will release documents which will shed light on Mr. Issa’s history and demonstrate that he is solely motivated by partisan rancor of the lowest order.  Stay tuned while we investigate the reckless investigator and reveal the truths that he is so desperate to hide. “

As a politician, Issa has been trying for at least 15 years to escape the acrid stench of smoke and circumstance that links him to the episode. Astonishingly, he claimed to Lizza that he was shocked – shocked! – to hear tell that authorities in the Buckeye State considered the blaze to be arson:

Issa seemed unfamiliar with the insurance company’s fire analysis report concluding that the fire was arson, and said that, as far as he knew, it was officially declared accidental.

Ah, not so much.

For those with real jobs or other annoying responsibilities that keep them from  more amusing pursuits, here are some highlights from the Calbuzz Cliff’s Notes version of The Issa Files:

Page 18: Anonymous call received by local police or fire department sometime soon after fire:  “Unidentified caller said was deliberately set.”

Page 41: Local official reports that member of the Arson Bureau of the State Fire Marshal’s Office, says “his preliminary findings indicate arson,” and that another investigator “indicated possible arson because of low burn patterns.”

Page 45: Investigator relates conversation with insurance agent noting that Issa had just increased amount on his policy: “our Ins’d and his Ins’d increased their insurance coverage only 1 week before the fire.”

pp 47-8: Summary of the Maple Heights fire chief’s suspicions about the fire, including “All areas of (the building) was under automatic sprinkler grid except small area where fire originated.”

pp. 92-94: Fire Analysis concluded that “fire was of incendiary origin” because of “suspicious burn patterns,” and because “no accidental source of heating power was located at either of these two major areas of origin.”  Blue flames and heavy smoke both indicated presence of hydrocarbon accelerant.

Carmen Perino

Page 107: Insurance form shows that Issa increased insurance for the period August 19-September 18, 1982; the fire broke out in the early morning hours of September  7, 1982. The special policy covers 80% of loss.

As the New Yorker piece duly notes, much of the substance, if not the granular detail, of the ethical cloud that trails behind the Grand Inquisitor was brought to light by reporters like Lance Williams and Eric Lichtblau during Issa’s failed bids for statewide office in 1998 and 2003.

“Issa seemed tired of defending himself from these old stories,” Lizza reports.

We just bet he did.

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There are 12 comments for this post

  1. avatar tonyseton says:

    Bardella seems perfectly suited for Issa, and will no doubt wind up looking like as bad choice for flack as his boss will for committee chair. Of course that can also be said for most in government these days. Alas.

    • avatar Andy says:

      I had to google this hack…here’s my favorite quote:

      “I actually didn’t go to college — it wasn’t the plan, but it’s how it worked out.”

  2. avatar chrisfinnie says:

    But, then, voters in the great state of Florida just elected ethically and legally challenged Rick Scott as governor. Somehow these character stains just don’t seem to have the same “yuck” factor they used to. Or gazillions of dollars of campaign spending are more effective at erasing them than they used to be. I do hope voters would draw the line at an actual criminal conviction (rather paying the fines and quitting ahead of the indictment as Scott did). But I’m not even sure of that anymore.

  3. avatar OC Progressive says:

    Very surprised that you did not mention the Courage Campaign’s project that has been up and running for months, http://issaexposed.couragecampaign.org/

    Rick Jacobs and his cohorts at Courage anticipated what Issa would do with his new perch, and started planning right after the election.

    Now Ace and his big bucks buddies in the consulting world see this as a chance to make some money in an off year, fishing for donors to raise a budget of 1.5 million to pay them and let them run a media campaign where they can generate commissions.

    While it’s a sincere compliment for Ace and company to imitate the Courage campaign, it seems just a little cynical to use a good idea as a way to go after the bid dollar donor base for some more moolah.

    • avatar pjhackenflack says:

      You are right that Calbuzz should have noted the Courage Campaign’s vigilant project keeping tabs on Issa.

  4. avatar Ernie Konnyu says:

    Circumstantial evidence was never strong enough to indict or convict Congressman Issa yet it is used here and elsewhere to lessen him.

    Why? First, because Chairman Issa will threathen the 2012 election success of the Demo leader through unearthing some of the Obama administration corruption always available for revelation in any president’s back yard.

    Why else? Issa is a Republican power therefore a Demo enemy that needs to be minimised or crushed.

    And Issa is a very rich man of Arab ancestry so never mind his civil rights say those D’s not favoring him.

    Yep! I think this D inspired persecution stinks but is a political norm when one dares to seriously mess with Demo powers!

    • avatar SezMe says:

      Innocent until proven guilty is an excellent standard for the legal system but is not the basis for judgment in the court of public opinion. You know this well, Ernie, in spite of your above lamentable attempt at righteousness.

      In fact, your use of the appellation “Chairman” for Issa is a transparent attempt to burnish his standing in the face of his rather dicey past. Sorry, it didn’t work. Issa’s pursuit of corruption will have exactly the same negligible effect on the 2012 race.

    • avatar chrisfinnie says:

      Didn’t know and absolutely don’t care about Issa’s ancestry. I supported Phil Angelides for governor, and I believe he’s half Syrian. Absolutely makes no difference.

      So please don’t attribute your own attitudes to the rest of us.

      I dislike Issa because he’s a sleaze and a panderer. And because he cares more about political posturing than about doing the hard work voters sent him to D.C. to do. I don’t need to know more about him than that. But, honestly, the more I do know, the more I think my original opinion of him was right.

      And one more thing, I don’t care about convicting him. Not my job. I only care about unseating him. And that I plan to work very hard to do.

      I am already very, very tired of Republican attacks on working Americans and on women. It is incredibly clear that the only “citizens” they care a rat’s ass about are the ones who can afford to fund Citizens United. The rest of us can go hang!

      So Issa isn’t the only one I want to retire at the end of this term. I’m going to work my tail off to get the whole lot of them defeated! Not because they’re Arabs. But because they’re rapacious jerks who only care about getting re-elected with big donations from their corporate masters. And because they’re stupid, small-minded, and just plain nasty.

      So, Ernie, you can put that in your pipe and smoke it!

    • avatar DwightSchrute says:

      Where’s his birth certificate? His long form driver’s license?

    • avatar Dallas112263 says:

      I for one look forward with great anticipation to Mr. Issa’s proposed investigations. Nothing could more completely illustrate his, and the entire Republican Party’s, blatantly partisan and dangerously counterproductive motives than for him to begin a series of Congressional witch hunts aimed at the imaginary targets of opportunity in the current or past roster of the Obama Administration.

      I frankly believe Mr. Issa is all bark and no bite, and if the level of maturity demonstrated by his Republican colleagues over the last few months is any indicator, and I think it is…, it will be great fun to watch it implode.

      And while we’re talkin’ about implosions, who said there are no second acts in American life, welcome back Ernie, I always said you were our very own Silicon Valley minted version of Newt Gingrich…

      RG Johnson
      San Jose CA

  5. avatar VenturaCapitalist says:

    Hey, somebody call Mary Jo Kopechne… let’s find out how she feels about this.

  6. avatar Adelaides Lament says:

    Dear VC,
    Your comment is repugnant.

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