Interview with Rep. Darrell Issa

Interview with Rep. Darrell Issa

By The Situation Room - September 13, 2010

WOLF BLITZER: If Republicans win control of the House of Representatives in November, some Democrats fear newly empowered GOP lawmakers will launch an investigation spree with President Obama as a prime target.

Let's discuss with the California Congressman who's been at the center of a lot of this speculation, Congressman Darrell Issa. He's the Senior Republican of the House Government -- House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Got it right. Congressman, thanks very much for coming in.


If we take control, I'd like to change the name back to Government Reform and Oversight, because we really are the committee that's supposed to decide how government is organized and accountable.

BLITZER: This is the committee that your colleague from California, Henry Waxman, shares. As right now, a lot of subpoena power, a lot of investigation power, if you will.

"Newsweek" recently wrote this -- Republicans have a good chance to win control of the House of Representatives this fall, and Issa, that would be you, will likely lead the Oversight Committee with unfettered subpoena power. That means Democrats should expect investigations into the president's staff, his appointees, and every policy he promotes, not to mention his response to crises like the BP spill.

Is that what Democrats can expect?

ISSA: Not at all. Actually you mentioned Henry Waxman. Henry Waxman has been off of the committee for two years. You wouldn't notice it because the gentleman who replaced him, Ed Towns, is in the party of the president. So it's been very, very quiet.

That's one of the challenges is we're supposed to be the committee that looks at government, the bureaucracy, its continuous failures. We have 74 IGs -- Inspector Generals who were, and to a great extent, our partners along with the General Accountability Office, we're supposed to do what we did back in '05, look at Mineral Management Service and its too cozy relationship with the -- with the oil companies. And then we're supposed to do the reform. In other words, our failure was not that we didn't figure out MMS was dysfunctional, but over those intervening years, we didn't fix it. And, ultimately, BP is not about the failure in the gulf, it's about MMS's failures ever since Reagan put them in existence.

BLITZER: They're one (ph) of the bureaucrats who were working their career as civil servants, if you will. But I've got to tell you there are plenty of Obama administration officials who are very worried right now if you become the chairman of this committee, they can expect -- they're going to have to start hiring personal lawyers because you'll be subpoenaing them for records and for tapes and for everything else. So we're going back to the days of the Clinton administration when Dan Burton and other Republican members of Congress were leveling -- issuing subpoenas left and right.

ISSA: Well, the era of Dan Burton and the era of the people taking the fifth, leaving the country, and in some cases going to jail is an era I hope none of us repeat. In other words, the crimes that went on shouldn't repeat, and neither should the subpoenas. Dan Burton had a special time in which subpoena after subpoena was required because nobody would answer the questions without them. During Tom Davis' chairmanship and Henry Waxman's chairmanship and when I was the subcommittee chairman, we almost never issued subpoenas. We almost always got the answers we wanted and worked cooperatively with the inspectors general. Wolf, there's one report I need about subpoenas. Only one inspector general, these people are appointed and confirmed by the president, the Senate, or the cabinet, only one inspector general has subpoena authority. I don't really need the subpoena authority. They need to get answers on behalf of the people they work for. Right now, except for the department of defense, none of them have.

BLITZER: These are inspectors general that work for the justice department, the state department, housing, whatever. You're saying they deserve to have subpoena --

ISSA: Absolutely. Presidential appointees should have the ability to get to the bottom quickly. If they have the authority like the department of defense IG, they'll almost never need to use it or never need to use it. We need the IGS to get answers. I don't need to be looking at every failure of government, I need to be looking where failure of government needs reform. You bring it back to Congress and we fix it. That's the reason I'm excited about the committee. I was excited when I was in the majority before. I was excited at times when Henry Waxman went after real problems.

BLITZER: "The New York Times" recently called you -- and I'm quoting it now, "annoyer in chief." Is that a badge of honor from your perspective?

ISSA: Wolf, in the minority, it is. If you try to hold the administration accountable from the minority when you have no power, the most I can do o is get the press to ask a lot of questions and annoy them. Ultimately, I have no authority. In the majority, yes, I want government to do what it's supposed to do and nothing more. I want it to do on time what they're supposed to. You know, FEMA was a failure, recognized by Katrina and Rita. No question at all. But are you saying it's a success today after the gulf situation? Probably not.

BLITZER: You're measuring the curtains already in that new office that you might be getting?

ISSA: No, because Ed Townsend and I worked closely together. He's helped me get subpoenas and get med information time and time again. Our relationship, you haven't heard much about it. But for the most part, we went in to the details with Toyota. We got the chairman himself, Toyota come here and tell people it will be fixed on his watch, it was fixed without subpoenas, without a lot of hoopla. But we got Secretary Lahood to commit and begin the process of fixing NTSA. We're supposed to do it when ever possibility.

BLITZER: The National Transportation Safety Administration.

ISSA: Acronyms.

BLITZER: Daniel Issa, thank you for coming in.

ISSA: Thanks, Wolf.


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