U.S. Senator Bob Menendez temporally today shut down President Donald Trump’s nomination of Darrell Issa as director of the U.S. Trade and Development Agency after raising questions about an FBI background check.
Issa, a former chairman of the House Oversight and Governmental Affairs Committee who former President Barack Obama blamed for creating a political environment that propelled Trump into the presidency, is seeking to lead a federal agency that promotes economic development in developing nations.
Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wanted all Senators on the his committee to review Issa’s FBI file before voting to advance his nomination.
“There is information in his FBI background investigation that concerns me greatly and that I believe members may find problematic and potentially disqualifying for Senate confirmation.” Menendez said. “Our joint request to the White House concerning Mr. Issa’s file has gone unanswered.”
Menendez said the hearing was taking place over objection by Senate Democrats.
“Our objection is over the administration’s refusal to provide the committee information to secure basic vetting information,” Menendez said. “We’re being asked to evaluate the two nominees without knowing all the facts. Why don’t we know all the facts? Because there is information that the White House controls and his administration refuses to share.”
The intimation by Menendez that there might be a smoking gun in Issa’s background check without identifying what it was drew a rebuke from the Trump administration.
“This is mall-style McCarthyism,” a senior administration source close to the confirmation process told the New Jersey Globe.
The source suggested that Menendez was seeking to smear Issa’s reputation without identifying the specifics of his allegations by simply referring to an FBI file.
Menendez said that Senate rules limited access to the file only to him and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman James Risch (R-Idaho).
The New Jersey Democrat sought to move into a closed session so that the full committee could discuss information that only Menendez and Risch had seen.
“We can have that discussion without causing embarrassment or harm to any of the nominees,” Menendez said.
His motion was defeated by an 11-11 vote, with U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) voting with the Democrats.
Risch decided to briefly recess the meeting so he and Menendez could speak privately with Issa.
Upon their return, Risch announced that the full FBI file would be shared with all committee members and that Issa would return for a confirmation hearing at a later date.
Issa later told the Washington Post that the only issue Menendez brought up concerned “allegations of activity of mine when I was 17.”
“He’s not making allegations during my 18 years as a member of the House or anything else that was done as an adult,” Issa told the Post. “It’s clear that his goal is to stop me from serving the president.”
According to a Fox News report, the issue concerned Issa’s use of a fake ID while serving in the U.S. Army in 1970.
“One would think that Menendez would be sensitive about accusing others of indiscretions,” the administration source said.
The Senate has not yet scheduled a new hearing for Issa, according to the committee website.
The hearing may not be necessary.
Issa, who lost his bid for re-election to a tenth term in 2018, recently formed an exploratory committee for a House bid in another Southern California district.