WASHINGTON — The House’s new subcommittee dedicated to probing the so-called weaponization of the federal government held its first hearing Thursday.
The hearing featured a litany of Republican criticisms of Democrats, government and Big Tech that have featured prominently in conservative media over the last several years, from alleged censorship of the right to cancel culture, and from a Department of Justice memo on threats against school boards to re-litigating which party fell prey to Russian disinformation in 2016.
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said in his opening statement that the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government will hold more public hearings in the future and take transcribed interviews from experts, government officials, members of the media, FBI whistleblowers and “Americans who’ve been targeted by their government” in its investigation. The panel is required to submit a final report to the House on its findings by Jan. 2, 2025, and, according to Jordan, it will also propose legislation “that will help protect the American people.”
The partisan hearing largely consisted of Democrats and Republicans asking friendly witnesses favorable questions that reinforced their views. Republicans suggested the government has been unfairly weaponized against conservatives, while Democrats argued that the committee itself was an example of improper weaponization of government, continuing a pattern begun under former President Donald Trump and his administration of using the levers of power to target political opponents.
“Millions of Americans already fear that weaponization is the right name for this special subcommittee — not because weaponization of the government is its target but because weaponization of the government is its purpose,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., the only Democratic member invited to speak as a witness on Thursday.
Members heard from two panels, one made up of current and former lawmakers and another of outside witnesses. In addition to Raskin, the first panel included Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, who left the Democratic Party to become an independent and appears frequently on Fox News. Each of them was allowed to speak for 10 minutes, in which they excoriated the Justice Department, social media companies and Democrats in Congress.
“I’ve ran countless investigations in the past few years, I’ve never seen so much ever from the FBI, the partisan media and some of my Democratic colleagues to interfere with and undermine very legitimate congressional inquiries,” said Grassley.
Gabbard set her sights on cancel culture, saying that Americans don’t feel safe expressing their opinions anymore, and “individuals in our government, often working through their arms in the mainstream media and big tech … get to decide what is true and what is false.”
Gabbard later added, “The idea that we must just blindly accept whatever the government or those in power tell us is true goes against the very essence of our Constitution and Bill of Rights.”
The weaponization subcommittee is formally tasked with investigating how the executive branch collects information on and investigates U.S. citizens “including ongoing criminal investigations” and is likely to look at the FBI’s August search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home. The subcommittee is part of the House Judiciary Committee, also chaired by Jordan, and has subpoena power.
Jordan said in his opening statement Thursday that the committee will look into “concerns” he says Americans have about the Justice Department, including the FBI, as well as the Department of Homeland Security, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the IRS and Big Tech’s alleged moves to “suppress information and censor Americans.”
Del. Stacey Plaskett of the Virgin Islands, who serves as the panel’s top Democrat, emphasized the importance of congressional oversight in her opening remarks Thursday, but said she is “deeply concerned about the use of this select subcommittee as a place to settle scores, showcase conspiracy theories and advance an extreme agenda that risks undermining Americans faith in our democracy.”
Plaskett warned that the “dangerous rhetoric and baseless accusations against the Justice Department and FBI” from some Republicans on the panel undermines their work. She and several other Democratic members noted the rise in violent threats against federal law enforcement.
Plaskett, a former prosecutor who also served as a Trump impeachment manager, said she was troubled by the committee’s plans to probe ongoing criminal investigations, adding that Democrats will “resist” any attempts by the committee “to derail ongoing legitimate investigations into President Trump or any other President and others within his orbit.”
The second panel of witnesses included two former FBI agents, Thomas Baker and Nicole Parker, who accused the bureau of increased politicization; George Washington University Law professor Jonathan Turley, a Fox News contributor who has also criticized the FBI and alleged social media censorship of conservatives; and Elliot Williams, a CNN legal analyst and former deputy assistant attorney general at the Justice Department during the Obama administration.
In a rare tense exchange, Rep. Dan Goldman, D-N.Y., who served as lead counsel in Trump’s first impeachment trial, pressed Jordan on his claim that Republican staffers have spoken with “dozens” of FBI whistleblowers with claims against the Justice Department.
Goldman repeatedly pressed Jordan for transcripts or notes from those interviews, while other Democratic members jumped in asking for the whistleblowers’ names. Jordan said the subcommittee would schedule each of the whistleblowers for depositions, which Democrats could attend, and said he would speak to Plaskett about “how we handle” information from those prior conversations between whistleblowers and his staff.
During the hearing, Jordan and other Republican members and witnesses called on additional whistleblowers to step forward.
In addition to Jordan, the panel’s 21 members include some high-profile GOP critics of President Joe Biden’s administration, like Reps. Thomas Massie of Kentucky, Elise Stefanik of New York and Gaetz, who was quietly added to the committee last week. Plaskett is one of nine Democrats on the panel.
Ian Sams, spokesman for the White House Counsel’s Office, called the panel a “Fox News reboot of the House Un-American Activities Committee with a political stunt that weaponizes Congress to carry out the priorities of extreme MAGA Republicans in Congress” in a statement Thursday morning.
“These extreme MAGA Republicans in Congress are choosing to make it their top priority to go down the rabbit hole of debunked conspiracy theories about a ‘deep state’ instead of taking a deep breath and deciding to work with the president and Democrats in Congress to improve Americans’ everyday lives,” he added.
Just before Thursday’s hearing, the Justice Department sent a letter to Jordan asking him to engage with the DOJ on his long list of subpoena requests.
Carlos Uriarte, the assistant attorney general for legislative affairs, wrote that the DOJ had requested a meeting to help comply with the Judiciary Committee’s requests “and identify a way to meet the Committee’s needs.”
“You have not yet responded to our offer,” Uriarte wrote in the letter, which was obtained by NBC News. “We have offered to engage with the Committee and provide information voluntarily, so a subpoena is premature.”
On Feb. 3, Jordan sent subpoenas to Attorney General Merrick Garland, FBI Director Christopher Wray and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona asking for a broad swath of information pertaining to the Justice Department’s efforts related to heated school board meetings around the country. The subpoenas came after Jordan and the Judiciary Committee sent more than 100 other letters to various Biden administration officials as part of their investigations.
Russell Dye, a spokesman for Jordan, called the Justice Department’s response “wholly inadequate” and “flawed” and said it “ignores the last two years of requests from our committee.”
“We expect full compliance with the subpoenas,” he added.