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Rep. Issa supports subpoena of Toyota president -- but can he do that?

First, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) "invited" embattled Toyota President Akio Toyoda to testify before Issa's House committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Now, Issa is willing to turn the invitation into a command performance.

The ranking Republican on the committee said he would "fully support" the issuance of a subpoena compelling Toyoda to testify before the committee, which has scheduled a Feb. 24 hearing on Toyota's sticky gas pedals.

If Toyoda comes to Capitol Hill, he probably won't make the Feb. 24 hearing. Instead, he is likely to extend a planned March tour of Toyota dealerships in the States to come to the Hill, if he decides to come at all.

How do you subpoena a foreign national like Akio Toyoda? As the joke goes, "very carefully."

Issa spokesman Kurt Bardella told me moments ago that such an subpoena would have to be coordinated between the U.S. State Department and the Japanese Embassy, a process he called "burdensome." Another option -- certainly more dramatic -- is to issue a subpoena for Toyoda that would take effect moments after he steps onto U.S. soil.

The subpoena power in Issa's committee comes from Chairman Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), but the committee appears sympathetic to Issa's insistence on hearing from Toyoda.

And what exactly would Issa like to ask Toyoda?

Whether there's a "cultural divide" between Toyota in Japan, Toyota in the U.S. and the Department of Transportation that prevents DOT's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration from getting communication and documents from the company when it wants and needs it, Bardella said.

Also at issue is the possibility of something known as "regulator capture." This happens when a regulatory agency -- say, the SEC, the FCC or, in this case, NHTSA -- gets too close to the companies it regulates and lets them slide from time to time or too easily accepts explanations from the companies instead of holding them accountable.

As The Post wrote recently, insurance giant State Farm told NHTSA as far back as 2007 that it looked like Toyotas were having trouble with sticky gas pedals.

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By Frank Ahrens  |  February 16, 2010; 3:36 PM ET
Categories:  Congress , Corporations , The Ticker  | Tags: Akio Toyoda, Darrell Issa, Toyota Prius, Toyota recall update, toyota, toyota recall model and years  
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