We all knew Ryan Lizza’s profile of Darrell Issa was coming. After all, it was a call from Lizza that reminded The Daily Beast’s Howard Kurtz of that error in his own Issa profile published back on November 27—a fact Kurtz remembered to mention to Politico’s Keach Hagey last week. (Briefly, Kurtz believed he was speaking to Issa on the phone for the piece when he actually was speaking to Issa’s spokesman, Kurt Bardella. That explained why Kurtz noted in the article Issa’s “tendency to refer to himself in the third person.” He did not correct until Lizza called and questioned him about it while doing his own research for his Issa story, almost two months later.)
Lizza’s profile is out today in The New Yorker, both online and in the magazine, and it recalls in structure and content the film Shattered Glass, which detailed the unraveling of shamed New Republic reporter Stephen Glass. First, we are presented with the standard climb-the-ladder story that led to Issa becoming the newly elected chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform—one of six children, he grew up in Cleveland, was an exemplary army serviceman, and made millions as a car alarm entrepreneur (his voice is on several thousand “Please step away from the car” warnings), before the move into politics. But the bio jackknifes a third of the way into the piece, when Lizza brings all that has come before into sharp relief, and we begin to see the need for earlier, unsettling qualifiers like, “according to one version of Issa’s official biography.” This is about where the piece u-turns.
Many politicians have committed indiscretions in earlier years: maybe they had an affair or hired an illegal immigrant as a nanny. Issa, it turned out, had, among other things, been indicted for stealing a car, arrested for carrying a concealed weapon, and accused by former associates of burning down a building.
Lizza is diligent in parsing out the details of all of those claims—getting the records, speaking to Issa’s accusers, and in one excruciating section towards the end, talking through them with Issa, with his wife, and Bardella present. For a taste of the he-said/she-said that results, here is Lizza’s outlining of the circumstantial evidence that suggested Issa may have burned down his own “Steal Stopper” alarm factory.
a fire-analysis report commissioned by the St. Paul insurance company, and dated October 19, 1982, a month after the incident, concluded that the fire was “incendiary.” The report cited “suspicious burn patterns,” such as “two separate major areas of origin,” and it said, “No accidental source of heating power was located at either of these two major areas of origin.” The manner in which stacks of cardboard boxes burned was inconsistent with an accidental fire. A flammable liquid appeared to have been poured over the boxes. The blue flames seen emanating from the roof were evidence, according to the investigators, of burning carbon monoxide that is produced when an accelerant like gasoline ignites. The black smoke was also a clue. “Such black smoke normally occurs in a fire only when a hydrocarbon is burning,” the report said.
Joey Adkins, the former owner of Steal Stopper, provided the main evidence against Issa. On the afternoon of September 20, 1982, in a lengthy recorded interview with an insurance investigator, he described a series of suspicious actions by Issa before the fire. Adkins, who still worked for Steal Stopper, said that Issa removed the company’s Apple II computer from the building, including “all hardware, all software, all the instruction books,” and also “the discs for accounts payable, accounts receivable, customer list, everything.” According to Adkins, Issa also transferred a copy of every design used by Steal Stopper from a filing cabinet to a fireproof box. He also said that Issa put in the box some important silk screens used in the production of circuit boards. Insurance officials noted that, less than three weeks before the fire, Issa had increased his insurance from a hundred thousand dollars to four hundred and sixty-two thousand dollars. “Quite frankly,” Adkins told the investigator, “I feel the man set the fire.”