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Transcript: Issa on Bomb Plot

Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2001

Following is the full transcript of a press conference held by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) on the reported plot to bomb his California offices. Rep. Issa is the grandson of Lebanese immigrants. Other speakers: Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), Rep. Benjamin A. Gilman (R-N.Y.), Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), Rep. Gary L. Ackerman (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.).

ISSA: Good afternoon, I'm Congressman Darrell Issa, and I'd like to make a short prepared statement.

First of all, I'd like to thank the FBI and law enforcement officials in Los Angeles for their quick actions in bringing these suspected terrorists into custody before they had an opportunity to carry out their acts of violence they had apparently planned.

I have no way of knowing why they have focused their targets on these individuals. Like most Americans, I hope and wish is that there is a peaceful resolution to the Middle East conflict. Unfortunately, there are extremists on both sides who oppose a peaceful resolution and instead choose violence.

Although this plot apparently involved members of the Jewish Defense League, I know that Jewish Americans, of which I have some of my colleagues with me here today, are appalled to hear of a plot like this originated in their community and in my community in California, just as Arab Americans have appalled these terrible attacks of September 11. As you can imagine, this is shocking news to receive.

And at this point, I have to refer questions you may have to the Capitol Hill Police, Bill Zimmerman (ph), at 224-1495. And unfortunately, I don't have further information at this time. What I've gotten is probably less than you have because I haven't been able to, you know, watch CNN. But I think that some of the members with me here today and the other members that weren't here would all agree that this was an unusual act of a small band of criminals in all likelihood. And we expect, as we learn more, to find exactly that, that this was an act of a very small group of individuals. People like this exist all over the world and we look forward to the FBI prosecuting, as is appropriate, to the fullest extent.

Thank you.

LANTOS: I am Congressman Tom Lantos of California, and I am proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with my friend and colleague Darrell Issa in condemning this outrageous alleged act of domestic terrorism.

There is no room in the United States for such actions and I urge the authorities to prosecute the individuals who have been designated as the people who planned some terrorist acts. And if convicted, I hope they will have to carry the full burden of the law. They should be punished as severely as our laws permit. There is no room in the United States for terrorism against members of Congress or anybody else because of their ethnic or their religious background.

Darrell Issa is an outstanding member of the Congress of the United States.

We are all proud to serve with him. And we are totally united with him in denouncing in the strongest possible terms this outrageous act.

GILMAN: I'm Ben Gilman, chairman emeritus of our International Relations Committee, and Darrell Issa has been an outstanding member of our International Relations Committee, continually trying to find solutions for peace in the Middle East. He's just returned, as a matter of fact, from a trip to the Middle East to try to find some satisfactory solutions.

It's outrageous that in California some radical members of an organization in California were seeking to bomb a mosque and also were seeking to destroy Darrell Issa's congressional office.

Violence only breeds further violence, and that's something we're fighting right now in terrorism wherever we may find it, whether it be in Afghanistan, whether it be in the Middle East, whether it be in other countries. And I hope that our federal authorities who are investigating this recent act are going to take appropriate steps to stamp out this further act of terrorism.

We want to show our support for Darrell Issa's, who's been doing such good work in our International Relations Committee of seeking a peaceful solution to the world's problems, and that's why I'm here today.

ISRAEL: I'm Congressman Steve Israel from New York.

A few months ago, Congressman Issa and I went together to the United States Holocaust Museum and toured every floor of that building. He saw what terrorists did against Jews in Nazi Germany, and he shouldn't be subject to terrorism by people claiming to defend Jews.

These people are beyond the pale. Terrorism by any name, for any cause, is still terrorism; there is not moral relativism to this.

Congressman Issa, himself a target, went through the Holocaust Museum and saw what happens what law turns into lawlessness. And now I urge law enforcement authorities to take the most vigorous and proactive approach to restore respect for law and order.

ACKERMAN: Gary Ackerman, 5th Congressional District of New York.

This really isn't about Darrell Issa, who I'll say a word about in a moment.

It's about ignorance and intolerance and hatred. And there are people who are individual people who harbor those kinds of feelings and those terrorist beliefs and we find them in every community. In every community in which this might be found, every community should be speaking out against these kinds of things, this type of behavior, this unacceptable giving in to the dissolution of civilized values.

That this happens to be a group that has a Jewish title is an embarrassment to all of us. And there's not a member of the Congress of Jewish heritage with whom I have spoken today, or any of us have spoken today, that does not condemn this terrible deed, this terrible plot, if true, from it's conception, the organization involved in it and every single individual that is involved with it.

The burden is on us to condemn this. And we would like to state that that should be followed through by every community in the world, when somebody commits an act of terrorism, to speak out immediately. We are not rushing to judgment. As you know, we do not know all of the facts as yet. But from what the charges are, the caveat is we're saying, if this is true, this is condemnable and we will condemn it.

Darrell Issa is a friend. Darrell Issa is a friend of the peace process. Darrell is a valued member of our committee. And he has traveled and met with the same people that I have met with and Chairman Lantos has met with and Chairman Gilman has met with--most leaders of the world, I think. And to condemn a member of Congress, presumably to death, because he is doing the job to which he has been elected is something that is as well unconscionable.

Some of us have been under similar kinds of circumstances on the flip side of that coin of hatred. And that is unfortunate, regrettable and condemnable as well. So we are going to stand together with our colleague. And we are going to encourage everybody to speak out against these acts.

If indeed the JDL is guilty of the charges and the individuals accused are guilty of the charges, there is no penalty in our mind that would be to severe.

Thank you.

ISSA: Thank you all for coming.

QUESTION: Congressman, could you describe what (OFF-MIKE) and how you found out about this?

ISSA: We really don't know very much. As I said, you probably all know more than any of us do. The FBI contacted my office and the Capitol Hill police and has informed us that these people have been apprehended and charges have been brought.

I think the important message today, though, is here we are, a group of people perhaps in another country would be adversaries; we're not here. In America, we're trying to find a peaceful solution in the Middle East and we're not going to be divided along any lines, including religious lines, including ethnic backgrounds.

And I think that's got to be the important message for people, extremists on both sides, is America will stand together, America will seek peace in the Middle East, and we'll seek out terrorists and eliminate them together. And there's no division at all, not between Republicans and Democrats, not between Jew and Gentile, not between Arab, whether Christian or Muslim. And that's the message that I think we've been giving, our president has been giving, and this doesn't change anything. It really is all about America understanding, and the world understanding America, that we stand united. We will work together for peace, but we will not tolerate violence by either side.

Thank you.


ISSA: I don't have any regrets on the trips. I think that the more members that go to the region that are passionate about trying to work toward peace, the better informed we are.

I think the members I just came back from the CODEL with had an opportunity, both in Israel and in the West Bank, plus some other Arab nations, to see things and understand the situation so they can be more productive on the International Relations Committee. I look forward to, with my chairman's approval, taking additional CODELs, trying to press harder than we ever have before to bring about a peaceful solution.

It's not an easy time. I don't think hopes are running high. But America's committed to it, our president's committed to it, and this Congress is committed to being there and doing everything we can on a bipartisan basis to bring about peace in the Middle East.


ISSA: No, I'm afraid I haven't. Obviously, I grew up in a Jewish neighborhood, I've had long friendships, but this particular group I didn't know anything about.

(UNKNOWN): Some of us do.



Well, on that note, Jerry, you want to step in here?

NADLER: Thank you. I apologize for being late. I had to speak on the floor just now.

One of the points that many of us who are strong supporters of Israel often make is that there is a great distinction between those people who would deliberately attack civilian targets, ordinary people in the course of their business in Israel or elsewhere, on the one hand, and those who in pursuit of criminals or terrorists may accidentally hurt innocent people. That's what happens in war. But there's a great moral distinction between targeting civilians, between targeting innocent people and targeting only military targets.

Unfortunately--and obviously we think that Israel is on the good side of that equation. Unfortunately the Jewish Defense League has a history of not understanding any of the moral points that certainly Israel and most Jewish figures adhere to and advocate. The Jewish Defense League meets every definition of a terrorist group, and that's why its ideological counterpart in Israel, the Kach Party, was banned by order of the supreme court of Israel, as a party, because it was declared a terrorist and a racist group.

So I certainly want to join my colleagues in what I assume they've all done when I was downstairs, namely denounce and denounce in the strongest terms the Jewish Defense League and any members of it who would plan to attack in any way, to bomb or otherwise menace or injure a mosque or Arab citizens or certainly our colleague Congressman Issa or anyone else.

As Americans especially, political disagreements are to be carried on verbally and in writing, and maybe over television.



NADLER: Radio. Whatever the media, fax, e-mail, whatever. But not with violence, not with guns, not with gunpowder, not with bullets, not with violence. That's the tradition of this country, that's the way we want to conduct our politics.

And I certainly hope that if any members of the Jewish Defense League, or anybody else for that matter, were, in fact, planning to bomb a mosque or Congressman Issa's office, they should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

(UNKNOWN): Let me just, by virtue of information...


(UNKNOWN): The Jewish Defense League had its antecedents in Brooklyn, New York, formed by the followers of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, who indeed was thrown out of the Israeli Knesset and by the rule of the Israeli supreme court, as Congressman Nadler points out, was forbidden to run because of their racist views. And they dissolved the political wing of their group. I believe they had one seat in the entire Knesset, and that was Kahane's, and he continued to do fund-raising in the United States.

(UNKNOWN): Their group is extremely small, not reflective of anybody's opinion except themselves, and they have promoted violence.

Originally, the presumption of their formation was to protect Jewish civilian communities in Brooklyn and in the city of New York from attack by other communities. That was the excuse. In other words, there was, kind of, a renegade group that formed their own protectionist posse. And from there it kind of spun out of control.

And with the assassination of Meir Kahane at the hands of a man named Nosair (ph), who is now in jail on a life sentence of--in addition to doing that--although he wasn't convicted of doing that, he was convicted of a gun charge involved in that--has been convicted and sentenced to a lifetime sentence for being one of the conspirators to blowing up the World Trade Center, the first movie, if you missed that one in 1993. And he sits in jail now.

But Meir Kahane's son formed a group called Kahane Chai, which means "Kahane lives." And they have this small group of followers in the United States.

And indeed, if they are in any way responsible for the actions that have been alleged today, they are all to be condemned as well.


ISSA: Well, you know it's--I had described myself as an American. My father and all my uncles on both sides served in the military in World War II and Korea. On one side of the family, my grandfather came to this country in the '20s. My grandmother was actually born here and married my grandfather. On the other side, the name is Bielfelt (ph) and they--my uncles spent, with German names, World War II in German prisoner of war camps.

So I think what I am is an American, somebody who served in the military, both as an enlisted man and as an officer, who does have an Arabic surname, like so many Americans somewhere, we trace our past to. And when I ran for Congress I ran on business issues, I ran, hopefully, to bring 20 years in my business life to the Congress.

But I also ran as somebody who had traveled in the Middle East, grown up, as I said, in a Jewish neighborhood, worked for a rabbi in high school, who had a little bit of understanding, perhaps, on both sides--maybe a foot in both camps. And so I joined the International Relations Committee and quite candidly, September 11 happened and it became more important than ever for all of us on that committee to participate in every aspect that we could in the areas of basically Asia and the Middle East because that's where a lot of the violence is coming from.


ISSA: You know, I think that today, really what we're talking about is a very small group of extremists who apparently planned an attack against one or more targets. And you're only talking to me because I apparently was one of the targets.

This is--as specifically Gary and Jerry said so well, this is a very small fringe group that has been denounced even within all aspects of the Jewish world and the Israeli world.

So I think we have to focus on a very small group of extremists, good work by the FBI, and leave it at that, because there is a forum in which all of us work to try to work on Middle East issues, and I think on-the-record statements then would be appropriate.

But today, let's just keep it simple that the FBI did an extremely good job in a small, small part on the war on terrorism.

(UNKNOWN): Let me just add something to that for the record. What Darrell's views are in the Middle East or my view's are is not what's important here. And that's not the issue. The issue is that there are people who would rather their view prevail and kill everybody else. Those people are described as terrorists, and they're not acceptable no matter where they come from or who they are.

This particular group that is under scrutiny today, and that has been charged, just to let you know they had a cable program in New York on public access TV because they got their first--I hate to tell you some of the things that they said about me and half of the rabbis in New York City, some of whom are fairly conservative politically. And they said things that Rabin, after his assassination, got what he deserved and should have been assassinated sooner.

So this is a small group of whackos. This is the technical New York term: They are whackos. And it is a small group and they get more attention than they deserve, but they can't get more punishment than they deserve. I guarantee you that. And they should be dealt with, as everybody said, in the harshest of possible terms.

Brad Sherman from California?

SHERMAN: Hello, I'm Brad Sherman from Sherman Oaks, California. Irv Rubin lives in my district. He ran against me for Congress last year for the Republican nomination. He paid his $1,300 or $1,400 filing fee. He was supposed to submit 40 valid signatures. He submitted mostly invalid signatures. He was told by the registrar to submit additional signatures. He submitted additional invalid signatures. And his name never appeared on the ballot.

Some of his people--at least I am told they were his people--have disrupted my public meetings from time to time. But what's more important is that this individual and this group are on the very fringes. They have done--to the extent they have any impact at all, they have done considerable harm to the U.S.-Israel relationship and to Israel and its security. There is in any community, a few extremists, but there are virtually--there is virtually no support for this individual.

We can't comment upon what his guilt or innocence as to the particular crimes charged, but he's clearly guilty of hateful and vituperative rhetoric, of harm to Israel and the U.S.-Israel relationship and of incredible political incompetence.

ISSA: Thank you all, and we'll certainly tell you more when we know it.

© 2001 The Washington Post Company


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