The new Republican-majority House voted on Jan. 10 to create a select subcommittee to investigate the “weaponization of the government” by federal law enforcement agencies under Democrat President Joe Biden’s administration.
The special panel would have various functions, including the authority to have subpoena power to receive information on intelligence-related activity that’s typically only shared with the House Intelligence Committee.
It would also have the authority to probe the federal government’s expansive role in investigations on U.S. citizens, including in ongoing criminal investigations. The panel would also have the power to probe how federal agencies communicate with private companies to collect information on Americans, according to the text of the resolution.
The resolution to create the “Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government” passed on a straight party-line vote of 221-211.
The panel is part of the House Judiciary Committee. Chairman Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) is also expected to chair it. It would comprise 15 members—nine Republicans and six Democrats—to be appointed by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).
Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who chairs the House Rules Committee, said the new panel is modeled on the Church Committee, a U.S. Senate select committee in 1975 that investigated U.S. intelligence agencies. That committee “uncovered and exposed a wide variety of abuses, including many [abuses] directed against American citizens,” Cole told fellow lawmakers on the House floor on Jan. 10.
“Similar to the situation that confronted America in the 1970s, in recent years we have witnessed abuses of the civil liberties of American citizens committed by the executive branch,” Cole said, adding that such violations are “often for political purposes.”
He said the newly-created panel “will be tasked with studying and reporting on the executive branch’s authority to collect information on or otherwise investigate citizens of the United States.”
“The American people deserve to have confidence in their government,” Cole said. “They deserve to know that the broad powers granted to the federal government through the FBI, to the Department of Homeland Security, and to the intelligence agencies, are not being abused.”
“They deserve to know that the executive branch is not positioning itself as the final arbiter of what constitutes truth,” he continued. “And they deserve to know that they will not be labeled a domestic terrorist for advocating for their children in front of a school board.”
‘This is About the First Amendment’
Democrats have raised concerns about a provision that authorizes the committee to probe “ongoing criminal investigations,” which are generally outside the purview of congressional oversight.
“This is a violation of separation of powers, and it’s also very dangerous,” said Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.
They have also claimed that Republicans could use its broad new authority to disrupt ongoing investigations into the breach of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, as well as former President Donald Trump’s handling of classified documents, for which the FBI conducted a raid on his Florida property in August 2022.
Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) derided the panel on the House floor late Jan. 10, calling it “nothing more than a deranged ploy by the MAGA extremists who have hijacked the party and want to use taxpayer money to push their far-right conspiracy nonsense.”
Jordan argued against that assertion on the House floor.
“A ploy? It’s not a ploy when the Department of Justice treats parents as terrorists—moms and dads simply showing up at a school board meeting to advocate for their son or daughter,” Jordan said. “It’s not a ploy when the FBI pays Twitter $3 million to censor American citizens.”
“It’s not a ploy when the Department of Homeland Security tries to set up a ‘disinformation governance board’ because we all know that the department of homeland security can tell what’s good speech and what is bad speech,” he continued. “You got to be kidding me. I’ll tell you what—dozens of whistleblowers have come talked to Republican staff on the Judiciary Committee doesn’t think this is a ploy. That’s why they talked to us. They know how serious this is.”
Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee in November 2022 released a 1,000-page report (pdf) titled “FBI Whistleblowers: What Their Disclosures Indicate About the Politicization of the FBI and Justice Department.” Citing multiple examples and whistleblower disclosures, the report outlined how the Justice Department and the FBI abused their authorities to target conservatives for political purposes.
Jordan continued: “This [committee] is about the First amendment. Something you guys [Democrats] used to care about. I would hope we could get bipartisan agreement on protecting the First Amendment—the five rights we enjoy as Americans under the First Amendment: Your right to practice your faith, assemble, right to petition the government, freedom of press, freedom of speech. Every single one’s been attacked in the last two years.”
“The government was telling people they couldn’t go to church a few years ago,” he noted. “Your right to assemble, petition the government—the Democrats kept the Capitol closed, a citizen couldn’t come to your Capitol that you pay for to redress your grievances because Nancy Pelosi wouldn’t let you in!”
“Freedom of the press—I just told you what the head of the intel committee tried to do to a journalist,” he continued. “The most important right we have, though, is your right to talk. Because if you can’t talk, you can’t practice your faith. You can’t share your faith. You can’t petition your government. The right to speak is the most important, and that’s what they [the federal government agencies] are going after.”