Remember the good old days in the 1960’s when our federal law enforcement was considered the best in the business? Those were fun times. Fast forward to today and we find that the Russian controlled opposition in the guise of the GOP, wants to get rid of those in the FBI they deem disloyal to them and Mother Russia. Not only that, but they also want the head of the DOJ as well.
How dare they investigate insurrections by their holier than thou government body? How dare they go after their orange peeled God Donald Trump? How dare they issue subpoenas and force people to testify what they knew, and more importantly, when they knew it? How dare they “follow the money” trails that leads straight back to them?
How dare these federal law enforcers criminalize their sedition and criminal money laundering? How dare they tie them to Russian mafia money? How dare they investigate classified document leaks on a massive scale that will eventually lead back to foreign countries buying our most precious and closely guarded secrets?
House Republicans are taking their fight with the FBI and Justice Department to a new level — weighing punitive steps against both agencies that would have been unfathomable a decade ago.
Half a year into their majority, and with an increasingly restless right flank, the House GOP is ready for a confrontation after a spate of recent decisions it sees as either anti-Trump or pro-Biden. At the top of the list: Hunter Biden’s plea deal with federal investigators and Donald Trump’s indictment over his handling of classified documents.
That push against the FBI and DOJ will become a cornerstone of Republicans’ agenda in a chaotic back half of the year. Speaker Kevin McCarthy has already threatened to explore impeaching Attorney General Merrick Garland. Conservatives have also gone after FBI Director Christopher Wray, weighing whether to force a vote recommend booting him from office.
Additionally, some conservatives who believe the agencies have targeted Republicans are eager to cut the law agencies’ budgets. Then there’s the long-brewing congressional fight over a soon-to-expire warrantless surveillance program that has sparked bipartisan accusations of abuse by the FBI.
Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.), a leadership ally, predicted that conservative colleagues on the House Judiciary Committee’s government politicization panel and their allies would take their battle against FBI and DOJ to the chamber floor. Those Republicans, he said, “believe the best way to send a message is to use the power of the purse.”
Whether they prevail in the form of budget cuts, impeachment, or other measures remains to be seen. Conservative efforts could backfire, instead exposing tension with centrist and more establishment Republicans who embrace the party’s pro-law enforcement roots — the prevailing sentiment inside the GOP before Trump came along.
The fault lines emerged during closed-door House GOP spending meetings in recent weeks, as some lawmakers warned others to think twice about how they use spending bills to target specific agencies. In one session, conservative Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) said he privately urged his colleagues to “be careful” about how they talk about Justice Department funding, adding: “I’m not in favor of cutting DOJ.”
The GOP’s outward frustrations with FBI and DOJ — and the conference’s internal angst about punishing them — will come into sharp relief heading into a series of high-profile hearings starting in July. Wray will appear before the Judiciary Committee days after the House returns from its July 4 break, as first reported by POLITICO, while Garland will testify in September.
Their testimony is part of routine oversight hearings. But it coincides with GOP chairs ramping up a leadership-blessed investigation into FBI and DOJ that’s sparked renewed chatter about impeaching Garland. The Republican probe — which spans the Oversight, Judiciary and Ways and Means Committees — centers around whistleblower claims that DOJ and a U.S. attorney’s office hampered the Hunter Biden investigation.
The impeachment threat has sparked fierce pushback from the White House and congressional Democrats. They say Republicans are carrying out a political vendetta that won’t meet the bar of a high crime or misdemeanor. White House spokesperson Ian Sams argued that House Republicans are “proving they have no positive agenda” and “pushing more partisan stunts intended only to get themselves attention on the far right.”
A Cabinet official hasn’t been impeached since 1876. Republicans would need near unanimity to target Garland, given their five-seat majority. So for now, they are focusing the bulk of their efforts on investigations.
Reps. James Comer (R-Ky.), Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Jason Smith (R-Mo.) — who oversee the three committees helming the inquiry — requested transcribed interviews with DOJ, FBI and IRS officials involved in the Hunter Biden investigation. That includes trying to haul in U.S. Attorney David Weiss, who oversaw the yearslong federal probe of the president’s son. If Weiss and others don’t comply, Republicans are prepared to use subpoenas.
At the heart of the GOP effort is the question of Weiss’ power over the Hunter Biden investigation and whether constraints were placed on the IRS. Weiss has said he had “ultimate authority” — a claim challenged by the whistleblower — and the ability to request “special attorney” status. Garland has also stressed Weiss’ autonomy and said that he supports Weiss testifying in the House.
“Some have chosen to attack the integrity of the Justice Department, and its components, and its employees, by claiming that we do not treat like cases alike. … Nothing could be further from the truth,” Garland said during a recent press conference.
Those investigations are likely to stretch into the fall, as Republicans have not set a hard timeline on the impeachment inquiry. The House will be in Washington for only a few weeks before a break until Sept. 12, when they’ll be consumed with trying to avoid a government shutdown.
Lawmakers expect that debate will extend into the holidays, which brings them to another end-of-year deadline: reauthorizing a surveillance authority known as Section 702 that’s used by the FBI.
Both of those legislative pushes have significant consequences for FBI and DOJ. They also threaten to splinter the GOP.
A bipartisan group of Intelligence Committee members is gearing up to pitch changes to Section 702 as well as the broader law it is housed under, which is meant to target individuals overseas but has come under scrutiny because it has also swept in Americans’ communications.
FBI and DOJ have made some internal changes aimed at boosting compliance with surveillance rules, but any congressional reauthorization is expected to add more checks. Lawmakers are looking at penalties for individuals who lie to the foreign intelligence surveillance court, for example, as well as mandated transcripts for court hearings and a rule that keeps surveillance applications in the hands of the same judges who initially field them.
Those lawmakers have also floated a requirement that law enforcement agencies at least notify U.S. citizens who are subject to searches based on data the program collects because they are believed to be the potential victim of a crime or foreign influence campaign.
GOP critics of the FBI want to do even more. They acknowledge Congress won’t embrace nixing the surveillance authority completely, but they have suggested not allowing the FBI to search data collected under the program or requiring a warrant for any such search.
Intelligence officials and their congressional allies in both parties say such a step would effectively neuter the entire program, with national security consequences.
Some Republicans are also eyeing the use of government funding bills and other legislation to guard against surveillance violations that stem from the yearslong, Trump-focused investigation into Russia’s 2016 election meddling.
GOP lawmakers have already taken one punitive step in the first draft of their spending plans: withholding more funding for a new FBI headquarters. Conservatives could go further on the House floor by trying to claw back previously approved money for the FBI building. And Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.) said he’s talking with colleagues about trying to dramatically restructure the FBI outside of spending bills.
The biggest proving ground for conservatives’ long-running pledge to rein in law enforcement will be the House GOP spending bill that includes the DOJ budget and the bulk of FBI-related funding. Republicans have discussed multiple ideas for that bill, including salary cuts for FBI and DOJ leaders and tying agency funding to responses when Congress makes oversight requests.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) has also pledged to take perhaps the most headline-grabbing shot of all: defunding Special Counsel Jack Smith, who indicted Trump over his handling of classified documents.