In an appearance on HBO's “Real Time with Bill Maher,” Issa, a senior member of the House Judiciary Committee, first told the progressive show host that House and Senate intelligence committees would look into Russia's activities “within the special areas they oversee.”
That was not sufficient for Maher, who pressed Issa — formerly the head of the House Oversight Committee — on whether he would have “let that slide” had similar suspicions arose involving the Democrats. Maher has been a vocal critic of Trump.
Shortly after the election, a CIA assessment concluded that hackers with connections to the Russian government targeted the Democratic National Committee and leaked thousands of emails to WikiLeaks in an effort to sway the outcome in Trump's favor. United States intelligence agencies have said they agree with the assessment, and a broad investigation is underway.
Russia has denied the accusations, and Trump — who has a history of praising Russian President Vladimir Putin — has vehemently denounced the findings and continued to blast the intelligence community.
“Let's go back to 2012,” Maher asked Issa on the show Friday. “Say the Russians hacked only Mitt Romney and there was a lot of contact between the Obama administration and Russia. You'd have let that slide?”
“No,” Issa replied.
“So you're not gonna let this slide?” Maher asked.
“No,” Issa said.
Issa then replied that lawmakers would ask the House and Senate intelligence committees investigate.
Maher protested, saying there needed to be a special prosecutor — and that now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions should recuse himself “the same way former Attorney General Loretta Lynch recused herself” from an investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails.
On Friday, The Washington Post reported that the Trump administration tried to enlist intelligence officials to counter news stories about Russia's ties with Trump's associates. Trump's national security adviser, Michael Flynn, resigned earlier this month over revelations about his potentially illegal contacts with the Russian ambassador to the United States and misleading senior officials.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), echoing other Democrats, has said that “the appearance of bias is unavoidable” if Sessions does not recuse himself in an independent investigation. Sessions indicated during the confirmation process that he would not recuse himself during any investigations involving Trump.
“If merely being a supporter of the President’s during the campaign warranted recusal from involvement in any matter involving [Trump], then most typical presidential appointees would be unable to conduct their duties,” Sessions told Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) in written responses to the Senate Judiciary Committee, according to Politico.
On Friday, however, Issa seemed to agree with Maher that Sessions should not be involved in an investigation.
“You're right, you cannot have somebody, a friend of mine, Jeff Sessions, who was on the campaign and who was an appointee,” he said. “You're going to need to use the special prosecutor's statute and office.”
Issa added that it would also be inappropriate for Sessions to pass the investigation on to the deputy attorney general. He then explained, in a lengthy tangent, that Russia needed to be investigated “because they are bad people.”
“Here's the reason we're going to have to do it, Bill. There may or may not be fault, but the American people who are beginning to understand that Putin murders his enemies — sometimes right in front of the Kremlin, and then suddenly the cameras don't work there — he's murdered people and taken down [sic] using cyberwarfare in Georgia and Ukraine. This is a bad guy who murders people, who runs a gas station with an economy the size of Italy but is screwing up things all over the world that we've been doing — 'working with.' Now, we have to work with them. We don't have to trust them. And we need to investigate their activities and we need to do it because they are bad people.”
Issa is serving his ninth term in Congress but is likely to face a grueling midterm election in 2018. After a lengthy reelection campaign last year, Issa narrowly defeated Democrat Doug Applegate in November to hold onto his seat in California's 49th Congressional District.
Most of Issa's appearance on Maher's show Friday focused on efforts to overhaul the health-care system. Issa has long been a vocal advocate of repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act and last week released a draft bill titled the “Access to Insurance for All Americans Act.”
On Tuesday, Issa was accused of skipping out on his constituents when he did not attend, as expected, an “emergency town hall” on health care in the San Diego area. Video from the event showed the crowd chanting “Where is Darrell?” and “Where is Issa?” repeatedly.
In response, tweets with the hashtag #WhereIsDarrell began appearing. Another video from the event showed Issa's face attached to a large cardboard cutout of Waldo, the purposely hard-to-spot cartoon character that was the star of a children's book series.
When Maher brought up the lawmaker's absence from the town hall, Issa defended himself by saying that he had “over 14 separate events open to the public in the last two weeks” and that he had spoken to several hundred people who showed up outside his office to protest recently.
“The reality is is there are not enough town-hall meetings,” Issa told Maher. “We've gone to tele-town hall.”