Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) tells TPM that he has no reason to believe his former spokesperson, Kurt Bardella, deliberately tried to impersonate him in a conversation with The Daily Beast’s Howard Kurtz last year, despite what Kurtz has said.
Last weekend, on his CNN show “Reliable Sources,” Kurtz interviewed Politico editor-in-chief John Harris about the bizarre email scandal that cost Bardella his job as spokesperson for Issa. During the segment, Kurtz made mention of his own Bardella incident.
“I had my own run-in with Kurt Bardella,” Kurtz told Harris. “I had asked for an interview with Darrell Issa, and he called and impersonated the congressman. And I said, ‘Thanks for calling, Congressman.’ He didn’t correct me. I wrote him a note saying, ‘Thanks for getting me the congressman.’ He didn’t correct me.”
“And then I made a serious mistake for which I’ve apologized in waiting weeks to correct the record after this sort of bizarre situation,” Kurtz added. “I’ve never been in a situation like that.”
When Kurtz first wrote about the incident, he was more vague about what caused the confusion. In a correction to his Nov. 27 article, “The GOP’s New Top Cop,” Kurtz wrote:
When I conducted the telephone interview for my Nov. 27 article on California Rep. Darrell Issa, my unambiguous understanding was that I was speaking with Rep. Issa. I subsequently learned that I was speaking to his chief spokesman, Kurt Bardella. None of the views ascribed to Issa are inaccurate, but the attribution throughout the story should have been to his spokesman, not to the congressman. We have since corrected the article. The earlier version also mentioned Darrell Issa’s “tendency to refer to himself in the third person.” In fact, that usage was appropriate because the interview was with his spokesman.
(In an additional explanation, Kurtz wrote that Bardella never identified himself as Issa’s spokesperson during the conversation, despite “one reference to ‘Darrell Issa’ that I attributed to lawmakers sometimes speaking of themselves in the third person.”)
Speaking to TPM on Thursday, Issa expressed doubt that anyone could confuse his voice with Bardella’s.
“How much have you talked to Kurt? Ever?” he said. “Do you see any similarity in our voices?”
Issa said he had no reason to believe Bardella’s acted deliberately.
“The fact is Kurt made on the record commitments for a plethora of issues every day,” he said. “It’s not uncommon for him to make those, he did it, and when we had hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of on the record [conversations], what purpose would it serve for him to deliberately impersonate me? I believe Howard misunderstood, but I don’t see a conflict between his misunderstanding and Kurt making statements on behalf of the Congressman every day and sooner or later someone not fully paying attention to who he was talking to.”
When asked if he stood by his statement that Bardella had “impersonated” Issa, Kurtz told TPM in an email that he had been “led to believe” he was speaking with the Congressman.
“I don’t believe Congressman Issa knew anything about this, but there is no question in my mind that Bardella called me when I was expecting a call from the congressman, led me to believe he was the congressman and made no attempt to correct me when I called him congressman or wrote to him to thank him for getting me the congressman,” Kurtz wrote. “I look forward to speaking with the real Darrell Issa at some point.”
TPM then asked Kurtz if he had raised any of this with Bardella back in November, when Bardella wrote him to say there had been “a little confusion.”
“Bardella claimed, not very convincingly, that it was a misunderstanding,” Kurtz wrote. “And I should have corrected the record sooner.
Issa fired Bardella last week, after Politico raised concerns that he had shared emails from other journalists with The New York Times’ Mark Leibovich.
Eric Lach is a reporter for TPM. From 2010 to 2011, he was a news writer in charge of the website’s front page. He has previously written for The Daily, NewYorker.com, GlobalPost and other publications. He can be reached at ericl(at)talkingpointsmemo.com