Illustraiton by Bob AulIt was only an "unloaded . . . little, teeny pistol," Congressman Darrell Issa (R-Somewhere south of San Onofre) told the Los Angeles Times earlier this month, hoping to explain away a 1972 weapons conviction. Now the San Francisco Chronicle tells us how unloaded and teeny.
According to official records, the Chronicle reported July 17, Issa was arrested in Adrian, Michigan, carrying a .25-caliber semiautomatic with seven bullets in the clip and another 44 bullets in a "military style pouch." He had another weapon: "a tear gas gun" with "two rounds of ammunition."
"Issa declined to be interviewed" for the Chronicle's story, and we say he was damn right. Today's dynamic Republican will not answer questions he doesn't like. Last Friday, for instance, the White House took the extraordinary step of sending a "senior administration official" to brief reporters on the prewar intelligence regarding Iraq's nuclear weapons. The point: to show that President Bush will not be held responsible for anything he tells Congress and the American people. "The president of the United States is not a fact-checker," the official said. Here at home, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas won't speak to entire newspaper staffs—nor even comply with their lawful public records requests—because they have pointed out corruption in his office.
But Issa is in the awkward position of declining interviews at the moment he needs the press most. Not merely bankrolling the Davis recall, Issa has also put himself forward as the man most likely to replace the governor if the recall succeeds. In that campaign, he'll depend on the media, a media that occasionally insists on dogging facts—like evidence that Issa has habitually lied in his rsum.
For instance, Issa used to tell the story of how, as a young soldier, he was part of a security unit protecting President Nixon at the 1971 World Series. As a story, it's got everything—Issa looking brave in uniform, baseball, Nixon—and it's a story Issa clearly enjoyed telling, because it shows up in his press clips as far back as 1990. But you won't be hearing it this year. In 1998, when Issa was running for the U.S. Senate, the San Francisco Examiner ruined this perfectly good story by calling the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda. The library's records reveal that Nixon never attended the 1971 World Series. The paper also interviewed members of the unit Issa served in, and none of them could remember anything remotely like Issa's story. In fact, they seemed to have a hard time remembering Issa—with one notable exception. Retired 1st Sergeant Jay Bergey had a vivid memory of Issa from 1971, which he shared with the Examiner: "That kid stole my car." (This allegation should not be confused with Issa's 1972 indictment for car theft in Ohio, or his 1980 arrest for car theft in California.) Rather than involve the courts, Bergey said, he opted for a more direct approach: "I confronted Issa . . . . I got in his face and threatened to kill him, and magically my car reappeared the next day."
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"Issa declined to be interviewed" for that story, too, demonstrating even then the dynamic brand of leadership he'd bring to California's highest office.