Republican lawmakers on Tuesday gave their approval to a new House subcommittee designed to probe the “weaponization” of the federal government, giving the panel access to sensitive intelligence and the power to oversee ongoing criminal investigations.
The resolution passed in a party-line vote, 221-211.
The subcommittee, part of the House Judiciary Committee, is expected to be chaired by the full panel’s chair, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio).
Such a move would give broad authority to an ally of Donald Trump who has railed against current and prior investigations of the former president.
“This is about the First Amendment, something you guys used to care about. And I’d actually hoped we could get bipartisan agreement on protecting the First Amendment — the five rights we enjoy as Americans under the First Amendment,” Jordan said during debate on the House floor Tuesday.
“We don’t want to go after anyone, we just want it to stop. And we want to respect the First Amendment to the Constitution that the greatest country in the world has. That’s what this committee is all about, and that’s what we’re gonna focus on, that’s what we are going to do,” he later added.
The panel’s creation is a victory for the House’s Freedom Caucus, which pushed for a body that would tackle a number of GOP gripes, carrying on Jordan’s prior claims that the Justice Department, and most particularly the FBI, has “ridiculed conservative Americans.”
The subcommittee, set to include 13 Republicans and five Democrats, comes amid numerous criminal probes into Trump and his associates.
The Justice Department continues its investigation into Trump and others for their efforts to prevent the transfer of power, appointing a special counsel to oversee that matter as well as the ongoing investigation into the mishandling of records at Trump’s Florida home.
Freshman Rep. Daniel Goldman (D-N.Y.), who as a congressional staffer served as counsel in both of Trump’s impeachments, sees the subcommittee as a direct attack on those ongoing DOJ investigations.
“I rise to make something crystal clear: the primary purpose of this special subcommittee is to interfere with the special counsel’s ongoing investigation into a conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election. This is a shocking abuse of power,” he said.
Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.), in an appearance on MSNBC, dismissed the panel for teeing up “investigations that are meant to stop the mechanics of government.”
Judiciary Ranking Member Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) said the committee was largely created to “settle political scores on behalf of Donald Trump.”
“The Judiciary Committee has serious work to do. But rather than trying to solve the problems of the American people, this new subcommittee will expend untold time and money undermining our nation’s law enforcement agencies, our justice system, and our intelligence community, all for a political stunt catering to the extremist wing of the Republican Party,” he said.
But some in the GOP said the subcommittee was needed to investigate the “deep state” that he called “the strongest covert weapon the left has.”
“We all knew politics was ugly, but we need to investigate and uncover corruption wherever it lies,” said Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.).
“It’s time to bring light to the shadows of the deep state and do our duty,” he added.
Democrats also raised concerns that in some cases appointees to the subcommittee could be intervening in investigations that involve them – a potential conflict of interest that goes unaddressed in its establishing resolution.
Several have pointed to Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) who’s phone was seized by the Justice Department last year. Perry was also subpoenaed by the House Jan. 6 committee, which wished to ask about his role introducing Trump to Jeff Clark, a DOJ attorney he weighed installing as attorney general as a way to forward an investigation into his baseless claims of voter fraud.
Perry has said there’s no reason he should be barred from the subcommittee.
“Why should I be limited — why should anybody be limited — just because someone has made an accusation? Everybody in America is innocent until proven guilty,” Perry said over the weekend on an appearance on ABC’s “This Week.”
But Goldman contended such a move would be inappropriate.
“He has indicated that he wants to be on this subcommittee, so that he can undermine a criminal investigation into himself. My Republican counterparts can dress up the subcommittee with a menacing name, but let’s call it what it really is: the Republican committee to obstruct justice,” Goldman said.
For his part, Jordan pushed back against arguments the subcommittee was purely political.
“A ploy? It’s not a ploy when the Department of Justice treats parents as terrorists,” he said, referencing a memo that asked the FBI to consult with school boards as members faced an increasing number of violent threats.
“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 added later.
House Freedom Caucus
House Judiciary Committee