Please Step Away From The Camera: Rep. Issa's Investigation By Exaggeration

May 18, 2011 4:47 pm ET — Brian Powell

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) made his fortune on the Viper car security system in the 1990s, so it's no surprise that he's a bit of an alarmist. As chair of the House Oversight Committee, Issa has alerted the American public to the trumped-up claims about the dangers of safety and environmental regulations, politicization in government agencies and the evils of organized labor.  

One of the bugs of Issa's motion-sensor Viper alarm was that its "step away from the vehicle" warnings would go off at the same loud volume whether the would-be intruder was a car thief or a stray dog. Since stepping into the national spotlight, Issa's alerts have been similar — he resorts to hyperbole quickly, frequently, and seemingly without discretion.

One of the more notable examples of such hyperbole came in 2010, when Issa compared the Obama administration's job offer to then-Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) to former President Nixon's involvement in Watergate, arguably the most infamous cover-up in our nation's history. Issa further suggested Obama may have committed an "impeachable offense."

Legal and ethics experts and political historians quickly rebutted Issa's claims, stating that the offer in question was neither illegal nor unusual. But Issa apparently learned that if he made wild claims, he could get on TV without trouble.

And so Issa's over-the-top Nixon comparisons haven't stopped there. Earlier this year, Issa claimed that the Freedom of Information Act process used by the Department of Homeland Security "reeks of a Nixonian enemies list." And this month, Issa alleged that a draft executive order that would increase the transparency of the government's contract bidding process would allow Obama to compile a "Nixonian-type enemies list."

Are any of these cases really comparable to a list of political opponents described by Nixon's White House Counsel as a means to "use the available federal machinery to screw our political enemies"? Apparently, they are to Darrell Issa.

But not all of Issa's investigations are Watergate. He thinks that at least one of them is actually more like Iran-Contra.

Indeed, while discussing the federal government's responsiveness to his investigation of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) gun trafficking program known as Project Gunrunner:

Issa told radio host Rick Amato that it is "not unprecedented" for government agencies, like the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), to refuse to honor Congressional subpoenas.

"This looks an awful lot like Iran Contra," Issa said. "When a government agency makes a mistake they stall, delay and cover up. That's what's happening here."

President Reagan's Iran-Contra scandal dealt with the U.S. government illegally selling arms to Iran in exchange for funds it used to finance a revolution in Nicaragua.

Previously, Issa had gone even further with his hyperbolic comparisons, alleging that the Mexican government had called Project Gunrunner an "act of war" against Mexico. Today, the Washington Post took issue with that comment, giving it Two Pinocchios for "Significant omissions and/or exaggerations," and criticizing him for "cavalierly tossing around inflammatory phrases."

His constant hyperbole might score him political points on the right, but Issa has a responsibility to all Americans to turn his rhetoric down a notch and leave the alarm business behind for good.