Ahead of the inaugural hearing of his new investigatory committee, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, darted back and forth across the hearing room floor to check in with his key witnesses before scanning every face in the room and then, assuming his throne, smashing the gavel down to order.
As the chair of the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government, Jordan holds new powers to investigate the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and IRS, federal agencies he claims have all colluded to attack conservative causes and the former president in equal measure. Along with subpoena power, the committee will also serve as a new bully pulpit to lash out at the sitting president while driving investigations into his family.
Jordan claimed during the nascent committee’s inception that it would follow in the footsteps of Sen. Frank Church, who, decades ago, used his perch on the Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations With Respect to Intelligence Activities to investigate illegal spying on U.S. civilians by the National Security Agency and widespread CIA overreach culminating in domestic propaganda campaigns. Thursday’s hearing suggested that any effort to fundamentally reform out-of-control law enforcement and surveillance agencies would come second to both parties’ attempts to use the committee for political ends.
The bombastic representative has taken every opportunity to rail against the perceived injustices of the “deep state” and curry favor with former President Donald Trump. He has fended off repeated attacks over past scandals and continues to amass power in Congress even as his radicalism has at times alienated him from his Freedom Caucus colleagues in the farthest right reaches of the GOP.
The one exception to Jordan’s approach came in a short exchange between Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., and former FBI agent and committee witness Thomas Baker, in which Massie pressed Baker on the use of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which allows for the backdoor surveillance of American citizens by monitoring the communications of noncitizens abroad. Massie, a long-standing foe of the NSA and its mass surveillance programs revealed by Edward Snowden, suggested that the committee could play a role in determining the law’s fate. FISA 702 is up for reauthorization this year and must be approved for continuation by Congress. “I hope we look at this going forward,” he told the committee. Jordan, meanwhile, renewed his time-honored tone.
“In my time in Congress, I have never seen anything like this, dozens and dozens of whistleblowers, FBI agents, coming to us talking about what is going on, the political nature of the Justice Department. It’s not Jim Jordan saying this, not Republicans, not conservatives — good FBI agents who are willing to come forward and give us the truth.”
While Jordan focused his opening remarks on FBI whistleblowers reporting perceived targeting of conservatives, the committee chair left the pointed attacks on the Biden administration to the first two members of the assembled panel, Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Ron Johnson, R-Wis.
Democrats’ control of the Senate has long stymied Republican efforts to investigate President Joe Biden and his son for business dealings abroad and the fallout over the laptop containing compromising images of Hunter Biden. But before Jordan’s committee, the two senators found a new audience to revive their complaints, both hammering law enforcement agencies they say are compromised by liberal appointments and political maneuvering.
Grassley described his ongoing efforts to investigate the Biden family as something out of a “fiction spy thriller,” with senior FBI leadership, first installed under the Obama administration, working to improperly release information about Hillary Clinton’s email servers, conceal the connection of the Biden family to foreign powers, and restrict information to stymie his investigations with Johnson.
“This story of government abuse and political treachery is scarier than fiction,” Grassley said. “It really happened. Help us write the last chapter in this real-life drama. You must relentlessly produce the facts and the evidence. Sen. Johnson and I will do the same and are willing to work with you.”
Johnson followed suit, painting a picture of a global leftist cabal enacting its agenda within federal government agencies. “It is important to recognize corrupt individuals within agencies that I am talking about are not acting alone,” Johnson said. “They operate as vital partners of the left-wing political movement that includes most members of the mainstream media, Big Tech, social media giants, global institutions and foundations, Democratic Party operatives, and elected officials. As the [Twitter] files reveal, these actors work in concert to defeat government control over our lives.”
Tulsi Gabbard, the heterodox former Democratic representative from Hawaii, focused much of her testimony on online censorship and communications between senior Twitter executives and members of federal law enforcement. A piece in The Intercept based on the so-called Twitter files showed that, while Twitter worked with law enforcement officials to monitor and restrict accounts deemed to pose a national security threat, it failed to maintain similar oversight over misleading posts from allied nations regarding U.S.-aligned objectives. Nonetheless, Gabbard spoke largely in vague broad strokes about domestic censorship and the threat limiting free speech poses to Democratic institutions.
“We have to stop this insanity and protect the sacred freedoms and vanquish the fear and self-censorship that is now pervasive,” Gabbard said. “But as we sit here today, the danger is that if we choose to reject or challenge whatever those in power declare is the so-called truth, we are accused of being anti-authority. We are accused of being a danger to society, accused of spreading misinformation, and are then targeted, smeared, and called things like a Russian asset, white supremacist, bigoted, racist, sexist, extremist, traitor, and so on.”
Before the hearing, Jordan had already issued his first subpoena as committee chair, summoning FBI Director Christopher Wray to testify on the FBI’s alleged surveillance of parents protesting at school board meetings over Covid-19 measures at their children’s schools. Both Johnson and Jordan have hammered the FBI over a whistleblower complaint that alleges the FBI used counterterrorism tools and designations to target school board protesters. The Department of Justice rebuffed Jordan’s efforts to demand information into ongoing investigations.
Despite the fiery language of the assembled panel, scant reference was made to the FBI’s long history of overreach and law-breaking extending well past both the Biden and Obama administrations. Similarly absent was reference to the known instances of FBI targeting left-wing protest movements with informants and agitators who have largely avoided the seemingly obvious charges of entrapment leveled against them.
As The Intercept reported this week, an FBI informant embedded with racial justice protesters in Colorado worked to coerce a protester into committing felonies while on the payroll of the FBI. Democrats on the committee and those testifying on their behalf also largely focused on threats made against the FBI to counter the GOP. They repeatedly referenced the dirty bomb threat made against FBI headquarters last year, alongside other threats and attacks on FBI field offices across the country.
“Your subcommittee can absolutely become part of a proud history of serious bipartisan oversight stretching from the Teapot Dome investigation, to the Boeing investigation, into the Watergate hearings, to the tobacco hearings, to the select committee on the January 6 attack,” Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., told the committee. “Or you take oversight down a very dark alley filled with conspiracy theories and disinformation. A place where facts are the enemy and partisan destruction is the overriding goal. Millions of Americans already fear that representation is the right name for the special subcommittee, not because weaponization of the government is its target, but because weaponization of the government is its purpose. What’s in a name? Well, everything.”