San Diego Union-Tribune

12-24-01

B-1

Rep. Issa's fight with columnist has dark side
   Writer may have stirred radical group's bomb plot

By Joe Cantlupe 
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE 

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Darrell Issa's battle with a flamboyant conservative Internet columnist who called the Arab-American lawmaker "jihad Darrell" has become a bizarre sideshow to what authorities say was a recent plot to bomb Issa's district office in San Clemente.

Issa and his aides said columns written by political
commentator Debbie Schlussel might have inflamed Jewish
Defense League officials, who allegedly were targeting the San Diego County lawmaker.

One of the suspects, Irving David Rubin, chairman of the JDL, gave copies of the Internet commentaries to an FBI informant, who helped thwart a plot to blow up a Los Angeles-area mosque and one of Issa's offices, according to a source familiar with the case.

Rubin and a JDL associate, Earl Leslie Krugel, have been held without bail since their arrests on federal charges in California on Dec. 11. They have denied the charges.

Initially, authorities contend, the suspects had targeted the
mosque but later added Issa as a target after they came across one of the Internet columns written by Schlussel, according to Issa.

FBI officials told the congressman that they believe the columns were a "basis for adding me to the target list, somewhat late in the game," Issa said in an interview.

FBI officials declined to comment. U.S. Attorney John Gordon in Los Angeles also refused to comment on the Schlussel columns, saying he was unfamiliar with them.

Authorities have not pinpointed a motive for the plot, nor have they discussed the Schlussel columns, which accused Issa of sympathizing with an alleged Middle Eastern terrorist organization, Hezbollah. The columns ran on the
conservative-leaning WorldNetDaily Web site in November and December.

Neither Issa nor his aides blame the columnist, Schlussel, for any connection to the plot.

Dale Neugebauer, the lawmaker's chief of staff in Washington, suggested that the columns may have added a motivating layer to whatever undercurrent of resentment against Issa was building. "It's very disturbing," he said.

But Issa, who is of Lebanese descent, characterized Schlussel's columns as half-baked opinions devoid of facts, and inflammatory.

"I've had less than kind articles written about me, but seldom with such an absence of facts," said Issa, a freshman Republican from Vista, who emphasized his past criticism of Hezbollah's terrorist activities.

Schlussel, in a recent telephone interview, was stunned to learn of reports that one of the suspects may have cited one of her columns about Issa. She only urged readers to vote against him in the next election, nothing violent, she said.

"It was horrible anybody would target (Issa) or anyone else. I condemn it unequivocally," said Schlussel.

But she had no regrets about the columns or "taking him to task for statements he made."

Schlussel, a 30-ish sports and entertainment attorney in the Detroit area, has been writing a column "Debbie Does Politics" for more than two years for the WorldNetDaily, and other Web sites.

She describes herself as a "conservative gen-Xer" who has
appeared as a guest on a number of programs, including
"Politically Incorrect" and the "Howard Stern Show."

Her frequent political commentary has led to run-ins with other lawmakers and some Web sites that ran her columns, sources said.

Media critics said the Internet is loaded with professional and amateur critics, some with bombastic opinions with varying degrees of accuracy.

"I find her kind of brassy. Occasionally I find it over the top," said Roger Aronoff, a media specialist for Accuracy in Media, a conservative media watchdog group. "Sure, there's a lot of junk journalists on the Internet, but with so much out there, it makes it harder to get away with things."

Schlussel began writing about Issa in November after the former car-alarm magnate caused a stir when he said he might have been a victim of ethnic profiling when he was barred from an Air France Flight to Paris. The airline said he was late for boarding.

Reacting to a later Issa trip to the Middle East, Schlussel wrote "this man, Darrell Issa, is disgusting" adding that Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, was "his new best buddy."

Neither Issa nor Schlussel has any plans soon to talk or meet.

"She called me a traitor or an idiot," Issa said, referring to one of Schlussel's columns. "I don't mind being called an idiot, we all make mistakes, I'm capable of that.

"But questioning my patriotism? It's absurd that I would
sympathize with a group that killed Marines. I've got 30,000
Marines in my district. That's particularly unbelievable."