Darrell Issa served coastal San Diego and Orange counties for almost two decades in the U.S. House of Representatives, first in California’s 48th Congressional District, then in the 49th after redistricting. Issa, a Republican, did not seek reelection in 2018, and his former district flipped to Democrat Mike Levin that year. But with Rep. Duncan Hunter’s conviction of a federal corruption charge and resignation from the House of Representatives, Issa has chosen to run in Hunter’s 50th Congressional District, which includes parts of east and north San Diego County as well as most of the city of Temecula.
His main opponents are radio talk show host and fellow Republican Carl DeMaio, and Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar, who narrowly lost to Hunter in 2018 while he was still facing a trial.
You used to represent the 49th Congressional District, although you have previously represented parts of what are now the 50th. What are your ties to this district?
I started my business when I came back to California in 1985 from Cleveland. My first facility for many years was in San Marcos. Many of my former employees were from San Marcos to Escondido all the way up to Temecula. And that’s one of the things about this district, is it’s two-thirds North County.
So, for most of my career, I represented Fallbrook, Bonsall — where I have a house and you know, my current residence — and Temecula, all the way up to Perris. And that’s the strange thing about the debate that’s going on. I’ve represented more of this district for longer than anybody else and I’m tied to this district.
The economy of two-thirds of the district, which is North County including the portion of Riverside that we think of as Temecula, we’re an economic dynamo. We’re 800,000 people. That’s twice the size of Cleveland, and if there were no San Diego, nobody would be saying this is anything other than a metropolis.
The district also, through gerrymandering, winds down and includes East County and that’s where, for decades, Duncan Hunter Sr. represented that district close to the wall, close to the border and that’s included in it. It’s about a third of it. And it’s an important third.
As a matter of fact, I would have two Indian tribes as constituents that I didn’t have previously. But the many tribes … I have a long history of working those federal issues.
Talk about your experience on the house oversight and government reform committee
I came to the (House Committee on Oversight and Reform) … the first day of my third term. I was somebody who came to Congress determined to be on the Energy and Commerce Committee. And for my first two years, I was on Judiciary, Foreign Affairs and Small Business, and then I got on the Energy and Commerce Committee and I discovered that it, as important as it is, was slow-moving and I missed the action.
And then Tom Davis, just coming in as chairman, asked me if I would consider going to Oversight because I had been a businessman. I understood that no matter how good your sales force is, no matter how good your product is, if you don’t audit it, you may not end up with anything at the end of the day.
So, he asked me to come on board and I did, which was an unusual selection. I gave up service on the Energy and Commerce Committee to go and do Oversight, returning to two of the other committees, Judiciary and Foreign Affairs. And the rest of my career, that’s what I’ve been doing.
And what I discovered was that holding government accountable and finding ways to make government more transparent is in some ways the most important job. The first commission ever of Congress was asked for by George Washington because he needed Congress to investigate failures of his generals.
And when you look back through it, you know, we all think about the appropriator because the appropriator says I got you the money. And it’s important. We all think about the taxing authority because they determine what is taken from us involuntarily. But at the end of the day, when you have 4 trillion, almost 5 trillion of your tax dollars being spent, one out of every four dollars in America spent by the government, holding government accountable to do what they have agreed to do on behalf of the American people is in some ways more important than all of the others.
What were some of the issues that you investigated and handled on the Oversight Committee?
The interesting thing is that the Oversight Committee has a mandate to look at anything anywhere anytime and because of that, you focus very broadly. It’s almost like the lens that looks 360 degrees so we did things such as look into the Countrywide scandal and dig into how — not how the American people were cheated, that was obvious — but how bribes, if you will — free refinancing to members of Congress and their staff — had led to legislation that really wasn’t what it should have been.
Congress let you down, but Angelo Mozilo and Countrywide had basically been handing out favors, financial favors, to both members and staff, and we investigated that while I was the minority leader.
Under Chairman Henry Waxman, when the Democrats were in control, we exposed that in the Iraq War, billions of dollars of U.S. $20 bills had been handed out and gone missing. And it was a real wake-up call that for all the good intentions of the Department of Defense, sometimes it’s just — they’re not thinking. And so, we feel very free to look at everything.
Of course, most people would know my investigations of Benghazi, Fast and Furious where Brian Terry was killed with weapons that were provided by us to the drug cartels under (President Obama’s Attorney General) Eric Holder. Obviously, (Former Internal Revenue Service Director of Exempt Organizations) Lois Lerner and the abuse of conservatives and libertarians and pro-Israel people for which we held her in contempt.
I did over 1,200 investigations during my chairmanship … four years as chairman and two years as ranking member. And you know, I’m proud of both because in my time with (Democratic Rep.) Ed Townes, when he was chairman, we got a lot done. And that’s one of the tricks of the trade, if you will. Elijah Cummings for example, when he was my ranking member, we sent 40 pieces of legislation to President Obama that he signed.
What are your thoughts on Inspector General Michael Horowitz and his report on the FBI’s handling of the Russia investigation?
Michael is the head of all 54 inspector generals and I worked with him for more than a decade. He’s frustrating because he’s meticulous and slow, but he’s very good. During my tenure, for example, he came before congress — this is when he was working for Eric Holder as the inspector general — and testifies that Eric Holder, the attorney general, is blocking him from holding attorneys at the Department of Justice accountable for discrimination, harassment and the like. That’s a pretty brave guy.
So, his willingness to see the truth, research it carefully — sometimes slower than you would like — and reach a conclusion and publish it bravely. Absolutely love it.
Now, he’ll also frustrate you by being completely honest. When he says ‘no evidence of XYZ,’ you have to read it very carefully because what he’s saying is ‘it’s obvious there’s prejudice, but I don’t have the tangible evidence necessary to bring a criminal charge.’
I think his report was exhaustive within his capability, but what it really does is it gives the American people an understanding that there’s enough wrongdoing (within the FBI’s handling of the Russia investigation) for the attorney general to continue investigating and come up with the indictments that I think will occur.
What do you think of the impeachment process as well as what the outcome is going to be?
You know, one of the interesting things is the “I” word has been used so often and people have asked me over the years why we didn’t impeach people. And I’ve never called for impeachment. I’ve called for people to be fired. I’ve called for them to be prosecuted. Impeachment is a political tool most of the time.
The one exception — I’ve voted for impeachment and we’ve successfully removed some federal judges during my time. Federal judges have a lifetime appointment and on occasions they will do terrible things. They’ll be corrupt; they’ll be substance abusers; they’ll be spousal abusers and the only way to get them out is, in fact, to impeach and remove them. And that’s very bipartisan. We go through a process and we reach a consensus.
If there’s overwhelming evidence if the person is unfit and if the crime or wrongdoing is undeniable, then you have the case.
What we have with President Trump is exactly what we had with the very first impeachment, of Andrew Johnson after the Civil War, where he was president — President Lincoln had been assassinated — he (Andrew Johnson) was clearly the president and he fired his Secretary of War and they impeached and almost removed him because they didn’t like him and they did like the Secretary of War. You would look and say, wait a second, a member of cabinet works for the president. How could you not be able to fire him? And wouldn’t it be silly to have a cabinet for three years and not be able to change it because the first president died.
It was an absurd impeachment. Well, this is equally absurd. Even if we disagree with everything the president stands for, even if you don’t agree with him. Did he have the right to conduct foreign policy? Absolutely. Did he have the right to emphasize anti-corruption? Absolutely. Did he have a right and an obligation to withhold those funds until he was satisfied? It’s in the legislation.
Thoughts on the killing of Iranian Gen. Qasem Suleimani by U.S. drone?
We should have taken him out 10 to 20 years ago. This is a man who has American blood on his hands.
The fact is, he has American blood on his hands. Effectively, he’s been marked for years as somebody who’s eligible — as eligible as Osama bin Laden — to be killed. Should he have been taken on Iraqi soil on that day? That’s a decision the president made. Should he have been taken out years ago as someone who was orchestrating the killing of Americans? You know, his activities in 2006, when the Israelis put up with thousands of missiles, rockets and mortars landing in Haifa and beyond for months; that was a strategy that he had worked. His activities emboldened Bashar al-Assad, absolutely.
You know, one of the (defenses) of him has been, ‘well, he helped wipe out ISIS.’ He also helped create ISIS. The mistreatment by the Shia in Iraq after they took power helped create ISIS. And you know, Sunni extremism is not going to go away if Shia mistreatment continues. You have to push both sides, like two kids fighting in a school yard, you can’t just tell one of them they’re bad. You’ve got to get both of them to lay down their arms.