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Interview with Rep. Darrell Issa

Interview with Rep. Darrell Issa

By The Situation Room - November 8, 2010

BLITZER: The incoming Republican majority in the House of Representatives could -- potentially at least could make the life of the Obama administration rather miserable if they want to. Let's talk about it with one congressman who's poised to take over a key investigative committee. He's going to be the new chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Darrell Issa of California. That would be your state.

Congressman, thanks very much for coming in.

ISSA: Thanks very much, Wolf.

BLITZER: Are you going to make their life miserable? Are they going all have to start hiring lawyers?

ISSA: No, no. We're going to try and get to the bottom of where money went and whether it was well-spent. We're going to try to roll back the direction of government. Many people talked about reducing the 100 million of discretionary spending. We're rolling back $350 million a year which was the stimulus over two years each year. That's a lot of money that we have to figure out where it was spent and how we're going to live without it.

BLITZER: That's going to be a primary focus of your investigation.

ISSA: It's going to be a big part of where we start. I said I have two priorities. One is public safety. Things like the FDA, and obviously MMS, the oil spill, and places where it affects people's lives. The money spending that has not let to jobs. Those are real priorities for the American people.

BLITZER: Because some Republicans and some conservatives would love you to go after the ACORN investigation or the new Black Panthers and some of the highly publicized activities.

ISSA: There's always going to be things that you watch where you have to follow up and ultimately refer it to the attorney general and so on. That's not what the committee is about. Our committee is supposed to be about finding waste, creating reform, making government do its job and do it within a smaller budge, not a larger budget.

BLITZER: Here's what you said on the Rush Limbaugh show back on October 19. "There will be a certain degree of gridlock as the president adjusts to the fact that he has been one of the most corrupt presidents in modern times. He has ignored the laws that said were so vital when he was a senator." Wow, those are strong words.

ISSA: They were tough.

BLITZER: Got to back it up. He's one of the most corrupt presidents in modern times.

ISSA: It was a campaign. I make no bones about it. If I had to do it all over again, I would have pursed my words a little more carefully. When you hand a president nearly a trillion dollars in walking around money, he uses it for political paybacks, that's corrupt. When you have things like ACORN where the president once received money to work for them and there seems to be no follow-up, even while states have recognized there's a corrupt organization, there's a problem. The new black panthers that you mentioned is really not in my lane, it's another Congressman's lane, Lamar Smith.

BLITZER: He'll be the chairman of the judiciary committee?

ISSA: He'll be the chairman there and I expect he'll follow up because this is voter intimidation. Voter fraud, voter intimidation, wasting money, these are important. But let's understand, corrupt is often taken by people to be breaking the law. It's not necessarily breaking the law. Getting all that money and using it in a way that was not its intended purpose, it did not create jobs, that's a problem. I need to be fair to the president and say, I come here to work with you. I come to make your administration more successful because you comply with the will of the people in light of the election. I'm going have to have a working relationship if we're going to bring hundreds of millions or dollars of spending out of it. My goal is to say never again will we hand you Congressional ear marks, never again will we give you walking around money that becomes discretionary ear marks by the president.

BLITZER: So if you had to take it back, you would take back the words one of the most corrupt presidents in modern times? That's political campaign rhetoric?

ISSA: I would say the administration's, if you will, ability to be corrupt because nearly a trillion dollars that Congress gave them and let them do whatever they wanted with it should have been approached in the sense that the house. the Senate, and the president wasted a considerable amount of money and they did so in a way that was political. That's a big difference in s saying one of the most corrupt. Do I think the president has a long way to go to make the kind of changes he promised to make? Absolutely. The Sestak issue is an issue not about a new crime or a new wrongdoing, but saying we're not going to change it.

BLITZER: Joe Sestak, when he was running against Arlen Specter for the Democratic nomination. He was approached and said he'll get a job and some sort of title in the Obama administration if you drop out. You're saying what? ISSA: That I can only take on an issue like that that occurred in the Bush administration if I take on the whole problem. I can't say this president's wrong when I find out that President Bush --

BLITZER: So you're not going to investigate it.

ISSA: I'm going to look for changes so it doesn't happen in the future. But I've got to recognize just as the problem from the gulf in MMS began on President Bush or President Clinton's watch, that I have to be fair and bipartisan, we need reforms for all presidents. Not just this one.

BLITZER: Just to be precise and clean this up, you don't or you do think the president is corrupt?

ISSA: I think this administration is going to have to make a change. The word corrupt is not an unreasonable -- Black's law would say getting $800 billion and spending it in political paybacks to a great extent through public employee unions and governments was, in fact, a misuse that I would call corrupt. Do I think that the president is personally corrupt? No, I should never have implied that or said that on a quick statement on a radio call-in.

BLITZER: You were supposed to meet today with the Vice President Joe Biden to start a new dialogue. He called you to invite you in. What happened?

ISSA: We had a good conversation. Fairly lengthy in which we talked a little bit about what we needed to start doing together. I think when the vice president had scheduled it, perhaps, the fact that the president would be out of the country, it hasn't hit him how busy the schedule was going to be. They said they want to reschedule next week. We have a number of issues we need to work on together. We certainly have to deal with the fact that the special IG on the -- on the stimulus and the TARP, they don't have subpoena authority, they need to have it. We have a bill in the Senate, it was passed in the house, trapped there, that would give them the ability to do that. Additionally, one of the things that I want to lobby the vice president is, we do not have mandatory reporting. We have voluntary reporting on all of the stimulus money. That's not going to work. Because what we're getting is we're getting the reporting of the right spending and not the reporting of the wrong spending.

BLITZER: Should officials in the white house right now start thinking about lawyering up?

ISSA: No. if anything what they should think about is one of my number one priorities to give all 74 IGs, inspector generals, subpoena authority. I believe they are the ones that need to be able to use subpoena, be able to do investigations and be free of fear of being fired for doing it. A lot of what I want to do is make the administration be able to do their job better. There aren't enough of us in a little committee to be able to really go after government. We can go after the white house. But the mistake is, the white house is not the probable. The bureaucracy to a great extent is the problem. BLITZER: So you, I assume, have studied what happened after President Clinton lost the majority in '94 and '95. The Republicans took over. And the white water investigations, the Paula Jones investigations, there were subpoenas after subpoenas after subpoenas. What I hear you saying is you're not going to do that.

ISSA: I have no intention on doing that. The fact is, we were out of power for over 40 years. I don't think we knew how to lead. We've only been out of the majority for four years. We've learned lessons by being voted out. But we have also a pretty good amount of knowledge on how do you lead? How did Tom Davis bring about real reforms when he was chairman? How do they do the things that the Americans want us to do. We've got to do those first.

BLITZER: What is the first thing you're going to investigate?

ISSA: That's a long list.

BLITZER: Number one?

ISSA: Well, look, I'm very concerned about the FDA and their ability to make sure our food and our medicine is safe. Under Chairman Towns, we had bipartisan hearings to show us that we're not good at either one. And there are real problems to make sure we can do that basic task of government. And I said in the beginning, safety -- the American people's safety, whether it's oil in the gulf or the food and drugs that they -- that they take feeling that they've been checked by the government. That has to come first. There's no question we're going to work on that. That's where government money is important.

BLITZER: That sounds like something everybody can agree on. Food, safety, for our kids and all that. No one is going to quarrel with you on that.

ISSA: When Ed and I switched position.

BLITZER: The outgoing.

ISSA: Chairman Towns. When we switched positions, my hope is everything that's bipartisan before is bipartisan again. I think it will be.

BLITZER: You're going to start off on a positive note.

ISSA: We're going to work first on the things that we agree need to be fixed. Mineral Management Service, now the Ocean Management --

BLITZER: The result of the BP disaster the gulf.

ISSA: But they were a corrupted organization under the -- under President Bush's watch. This is a group that had --

BLITZER: MMS --

ISSA: MMS in those days. We had hearing after hearing in which we saw the too-cozy relationship and we failed and the Bush administration failed to fix it to have prevented this. So I look at it and I say, when I start in '05, when I was a subcommittee chairman, I have to finish to make sure I work with the administration to ensure this organization becomes functional on the revenue we deserve and the safety we deserve in the work that they do. Those are things that are clearly in my lane. They could be controversial from time to time. I don't think they should be. You said which one is first? I can't fail to tell you there is one investigation I'm going to continue -- the friends of Angelo, finding out how hundreds of thousands of dollars per recipient, mostly people in government, not elected people, influenced Freddie and Fannie's decisions to take bad loans.

BLITZER: Special mortgages, like Chris Dodd. Was he one of those?

ISSA: He was one of those people. But I'm not looking at the senators and the Congressman as much as I look at the staffers and the people over at Freddie and Fannie that, in fact, may very well have been more important to the bad decision. I think that when it comes to member of the house and the Senate, that's an ethics job. That's not my committee. But it is important that we get the facts. If I find something on a member of the house or the Senate as we've done in the past, we refer to ethics and leave it alone. When I look at over 100 people on staff in the house and Senate and at Freddie and Fannie who received these special loans in key positions, I have to ask, was Angelo doing it because he was a nice guy, or because he got a real bang for his dollar and I think the latter the true.

BLITZER: Investigating the mineral and management mines. With have a lot on your plate.

ISSA: America is a great country with a lot of problem on the government. If we don't make a change in the two years, we don't deserve to have an opportunity to lead. I've gotten this opportunity. I want to make the most of it. It won't be by investigating the president first, it will be fixing the problems first.

BLITZER: The whole country will be watching.

ISSA: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks for coming in.

ISSA: My pleasure.

BLITZER: Good luck.

ISSA: Thank you.

 

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