Seven takeaways from the House GOP’s first ‘weaponization’ hearing

Congress Oversight
Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, left, speaks as Del. Stacey Plaskett, D-Virgin Islands, the ranking member, right, listens, during a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing on what Republicans say is the politicization of the FBI and Justice Department and attacks on American civil liberties on Capitol Hill, Thursday, Feb. 9, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster) Carolyn Kaster/AP

Seven takeaways from the House GOP’s first ‘weaponization’ hearing

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Members of the House subcommittee on the “weaponization” of government held their first hearing Thursday and heard from witnesses about a dizzying array of alleged abuses that could fall under the panel’s jurisdiction.

Censorship, politically motivated criminal inquiries, illegal leaks to the media, and Hunter Biden’s business dealings all emerged as points of discussion in a broader look at what, according to the panel’s Republicans, has plagued the federal government.

The hearing mostly set the stage for what to expect from the subcommittee in the months ahead rather than examining any specific allegations in detail.

An initial panel of witnesses featured Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Ron Johnson (R-WI), former Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, and Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD). A second panel included testimony from Former FBI Special Agent Thomas Baker, George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley, Raben Group principal Elliot Williams, and former FBI Special Agent Nicole Parker.

Here are seven takeaways from the hearing.

FBI WHISTLEBLOWERS WAITING IN THE WINGS

The two former FBI agents who testified Thursday are far from the only current or former officials whom the subcommittee plans to call upon during its investigation, subcommittee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-OH) said in his opening statement.

“We expect to hear from the FBI agents who have come forward as whistleblowers. We think many of them will sit for transcribed interviews, as one did on Tuesday,” Jordan said. “And we believe several of them will come and testify in open hearings.”

The subcommittee chairman has previously said as many as 19 FBI whistleblowers have made contact with his team.

Johnson encouraged even more of them to report wrongdoing.

“I urge men and women with integrity to come forward and reveal the truth,” he said.

In a heated exchange with Rep. Jared Goldman (D-ME), Jordan revealed that his committee planned another transcribed interview with an FBI whistleblower on Friday and a third next week.

Goldman complained that Democrats on the subcommittee did not have information about who the whistleblowers were or when they planned to testify.

DIRECTOR WRAY IN THE HOT SEAT?

FBI Director Chris Wray, appointed by former President Donald Trump after the firing of predecessor James Comey, has become part of the bureau’s problem in the eyes of some Republicans.

“Director Wray has consistently failed to perform duties required of his position,” Grassley said in his testimony.

Grassley cited a briefing the FBI provided him and Johnson in 2020 about their Hunter Biden inquiries that was quickly leaked to the media and used by Democrats to portray them both as complicit in spreading Russian disinformation.

Grassley said Wray has refused to hand over documents related to that briefing, including records showing the intelligence basis for scheduling it in the first place.

Likewise, the two former FBI agents testified about problems with the current culture of the bureau — which ultimately reflects on the FBI’s leader.

THE HUNTER BIDEN FACTOR

How the FBI handled both the public dissemination of the laptop story and the private advancement of criminal inquiries into Hunter Biden received significant attention throughout the hearing, signaling how important those events are likely to be to the subcommittee.

Grassley said unnamed witnesses had come forward to tell his Senate committee that FBI officials “improperly ordered information to be closed” just before the 2020 election despite evidence that the Hunter Biden-related allegations were legitimate.

“The FBI has within its possession very significant, impactful, and voluminous evidence with respect to potential criminal conduct by Hunter and James Biden,” Grassley said. “These disclosures also allege that Joe Biden was aware of Hunter Biden’s business arrangements and may have been involved in some of them.”

Senate lawmakers may have more to share on the nexus of alleged FBI partisanship and the president’s son before the subcommittee does.

Johnson said his panel would soon produce a detailed report on alleged efforts by the FBI to suppress the Hunter Biden story.

MEDIA UNDER THE MICROSCOPE

Subcommittee members and their Republican witnesses signaled that the media may become a focus of investigative efforts as well.

“We expect to hear from people in the media,” Jordan said during his opening statement.

Grassley and others described ways corporate media have worked closely with the federal government and intelligence agencies to advance Democratic-friendly narratives. The Iowa Republican called out “the triad of partisan media, FBI, Democrats and leadership” that worked together to hurt Trump politically during his presidency.

Johnson argued that because reporters had demonstrated an unwillingness to cover government activity fairly, “congressional oversight is needed now more than ever.”

Gabbard, who spoke primarily about government-backed threats to free speech, said federal officials work with “their arms in the media and Big Tech” to control what information the public can encounter and discuss.

The first panel of witnesses appeared particularly interested in FBI leaks to the media during the Russia investigation and why the reporters on the receiving end of those leaks demonstrated seemingly little concern about having been misled.

FAUCI MAKES A CAMEO

Former National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci got a shoutout from Johnson during the senator’s testimony about how the federal government wielded its power during the pandemic.

Johnson cited emails between Fauci and Francis Collins, former director of the National Institutes of Health, in which the two public health officials discussed the need for a “devastating takedown” of scientists who questioned their policies.

The Wisconsin lawmaker complained that the NIH has continued stonewalling requests for unredacted versions of Fauci’s emails, particularly ones that could provide insight into how much Fauci knew about the research unfolding in Wuhan, China, in the months before the virus began spreading there.

“Federal health agencies have not been honest or transparent,” Johnson said.

Congressional Republicans had vowed to make investigating Fauci a priority upon taking the House majority; Fauci had, through his many appearances in the media, become the public face of a government COVID-19 response that became deeply unpopular.

DEMOCRATS FOCUS ON JAN. 6

Speaking as the only Democratic witness in the first panel, Raskin pointed the finger back at congressional Republicans — and at Trump.

Raskin accused Republicans of themselves supporting the weaponization of government by applauding the appointment of John Durham as a special counsel to investigate the origins of the Russian collusion investigation.

Claiming the subcommittee’s purpose is to abuse its power in the same ways it alleges the federal government has, Raskin said the panel was an exercise in “pure psychological projection.”

Raskin dedicated much of his testimony to an argument that linked the actions of the Trump administration and the rioters on Jan. 6 with the alleged abuses of power that Republicans described throughout the hearing.

His comments likely foreshadowed the approach Democrats will take as the investigation unfolds: discredit the subcommittee by accusing it of targeting political adversaries.

BIPARTISAN OVERTURES

The subcommittee attempted at least the appearance of bipartisanship by including dissenting voices on the witness list and allowing Democratic members ample time to lodge their counterarguments.

Williams, the Raben Group Public Policy Firm official, spoke both about the importance of congressional oversight and the need for Justice Department officials to limit access to some requested information during an ongoing criminal investigation.

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Raskin was given time to criticize the creation of the subcommittee.

The attempt at bipartisanship stood in stark contrast to the conduct of the Jan. 6 committee, which denied membership to all but two anti-Trump Republicans and did not publicize any accounts of the Capitol riots that differed from the Democratic view of events.

© 2023 Washington Examiner

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