One of the lead Congressional investigators into sudden acceleration in Toyotas today accused another Congressman of manipulating evidence by misquoting and mischaracterizing documents subpoenaed from a former Toyota attorney turned whistleblower.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R.-Calif., today took the rare step of handing a letter to Rep. Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y., on the floor of the House of Representatives, accusing Towns of making "erroneous, misleading, and manipulated" assertions in describing the evidence obtained from the attorney.
Towns is the chairman and Issa the ranking minority member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which held a hearing last week investigating the Toyota sudden acceleration issue. Top Toyota executives Akio Toyoda and Yoshimi Inaba testified at the hearing.
As reported on the Blotter, Towns sent a strongly worded letter after the hearing to Inaba, head of Toyota's North America operations, alleging that Toyota had deliberately withheld key evidence during civil litigation over vehicle safety. In his letter, Towns cited a congressional review of documents obtained under subpoena from Dimitrios Biller, a former top Toyota lawyer now engaged in a legal dispute with his former employer.
Issa now claims the Chairman "frequently misquotes and mischaracterizes the underlying material" and was not basing his letter to Inaba on a "fair reading of the evidence." In "one extreme case," Issa accused the Chairman of actually misrepresenting a key document by inserting the phrase "sudden unintended acceleration" into a quotation from a Biller memo dealing with a court case involving Toyota. According to Issa, the alteration changed the meaning of the memo, which he said did not deal with a sudden acceleration case.
In his letter to Inaba, Towns apparently added five words to a passage he quoted from the Biller memo. According to Issa, the memo includes a sentence that begins, "This issue had been the subject of a number of meetings." The Towns version says, "This issue [sudden unintended acceleration] (emphasis added) had been the subject of a number of meetings." In addition to brackets, the words "sudden unintended acceleration" are underlined. Issa notes that in another memo, Biller himself asserts that the court case he is discussing "is NOT related to unintended acceleration."
However, an examination of court documents shows that the plaintiff in the case in question, Greenberg v. Toyota, did allege problems with sudden acceleration. One of the allegations in the complaint states that "Owners of the affected Toyota and Lexus model vehicles have also reported a dangerous failure of the drive-by-wire throttle, wherein the throttle system 'sticks' open and dangerous, unanticipated acceleration occurs. Accidents and near collisions have been reported as a result of this throttle failure."
In a statement, Rep. Issa said that the "misleading content" in Chairman Towns' letter to Inaba "shed a negative light on what has otherwise been a successful bipartisan effort."
"If any documents raise legitimate questions about Toyota's interaction with federal regulators, I will not hesitate to join with the Chairman and bring it to the public's attention," said Issa. "However, such actions must be based on fact and not conjecture, manipulated quotations and mischaracterizations."
A spokesperson for Rep. Towns declined to comment on Issa's claims.
In an article published in Politico last June, Issa and Towns discussed their working relationship as ranking member and chair, respectively, of the Oversight Committee.
"It's been a great relationship," said Towns at the time. "I'm encouraged, because we've been able to to do some creative things together."
Issa said the relationship was "always getting better." However, he also made a prediction that seems to have come true.
"If we have to go to the mattresses, we will," said Issa. "That day will come."