The House special subcommittee probing the federal government’s “weaponization” will hold its first hearing Thursday with testimony from two Republican senators and a focus on the Justice Department and an alleged bias against conservatives.
The hearing sets the stage for one of the most closely watched and politically heated House panels, one with a broad investigative portfolio, subpoena power and the ability to access Intelligence Committee information.
The subcommittee already faces criticism from Democrats, who argue conservatives will use it as a political weapon to attack the federal government and push false conspiracy theories.
The first hearing will feature testimony from Iowa Republican Sen. Charles E. Grassley, who traditionally has had a muscular investigative staff, and Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, now the ranking member on the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.
Johnson and Grassley have repeatedly highlighted alleged bias at the FBI and criticized some Justice Department actions on investigations, such as the handling of a criminal investigation into Hunter Biden, President Joe Biden’s son.
Johnson, in a brief interview Tuesday, said he will speak about instances where people in the federal government worked with the media to undermine the truth.
“I’ll lay out numerous examples, beyond just what we’ve experienced personally, in terms of the undermining and sabotaging of our investigations,” Johnson said.
Grassley, the former Judiciary Committee ranking member, released a minority staff report in 2021 that tried to refute allegations former President Donald Trump attempted to use the DOJ to overturn the result of the 2020 election.
The first witnesses will also include Maryland Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin, the ranking member of the House Oversight and Accountability Committee, who previously served as a manager for both impeachments of Trump and sat on the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.
That committee last year presented evidence that Johnson’s staff had tried to facilitate a transfer of a false slate of electors from Wisconsin to Vice President Mike Pence. That committee presented texts indicating that Pence’s staff refused the handoff and Johnson later disputed the account.
Former Rep. Tom Davis, now a partner at Holland and Knight, said the testimony from members of Congress “is just kind of the opening salvo to get the audience interested and the base revved up.”
Davis said Thursday’s hearing will serve as Republicans’ opening argument on long-standing concerns about bias in the federal government.
“It’s already a given among conservatives in this country that the government has been weaponized against them. That Trump was given unfair treatment and Biden was treated with kid gloves,” Davis said.
Committee Chairman Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said Tuesday the panel will present evidence of a federal government gone awry.
“We have a government that now I believe is targeting the very people it is supposed to serve,” Jordan said at a press conference.
Jordan said the hearing was one part of an investigation that would expose the federal government’s bias, and that his staff had spoken to dozens of whistleblowers who are “talking about how the Justice Department is operating in such a political fashion and manner.”
Also set to testify Thursday are former Rep. Tulsi Gabbard; Thomas Baker and Nicole Parker, both former FBI agents; as well as George Washington law professor Jonathan Turley and Elliot Williams, a former Senate and DOJ counsel who now works as a principal at the Raben Group, a public relations firm, according to a hearing announcement released Wednesday.
Committee member Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, D-Va., said the premise that the FBI is biased against conservatives is absurd, saying the agency has a history of being weaponized against figures on the left side of the political spectrum.
Connolly also panned Jordan, saying the Republican has a “very sorry history of conflating fabrication with facts.”
“Their shopworn tactics — of cherry picking facts, fabricating, promoting conspiracy theories, innuendos, slander — will be their modus operandi as we move forward on this and other efforts,” Connolly said.
The committee will face the real test of its effectiveness in the coming weeks in media coverage of what the committee investigation presents from its findings in documents, subpoenas and other discovery, Davis said.
News organizations “were all over Jan. 6, but I think this committee is probably fighting for oxygen,” Davis said.
Davis pointed out that Republicans have had four years in the minority to plan their approach to the committee probe and now have recent examples such as Twitter’s treatment of the Hunter Biden laptop story before the 2020 election to buttress their arguments.
Several polls released this week show the panel may have an uphill battle convincing members of the public that do not already agree with them.
A Washington Post-ABC poll released Tuesday showed that a significant portion of the country, about 28 percent of respondents, thought the federal government was biased against conservatives. A larger portion of the responses, about 42 percent, said they thought it had no bias.
The same poll found that 56 percent of respondents thought the subcommittee is “just an attempt to score political points,” rather than a legitimate investigation.
In total, 65 percent of U.S. adults in a Pew Research Center survey were concerned that congressional Republicans will concentrate too much on investigating the Biden administration. The survey, which was conducted in January, found that 32 percent think Republicans in Congress will focus too little on it.
House Republicans created the panel on a party-line vote last month as part of a deal conservatives struck with Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., that enabled him to gain the gavel.
Jordan has focused so far on long-standing grievances among Republicans, including alleged bias at the DOJ; alleged “targeting” of parents who protested at school board meetings; communications that federal law enforcement had with Twitter and other social media sites about a laptop owned by Hunter Biden; and other issues.
Last week Jordan subpoenaed Biden administration officials for documents related to an October 2021 memorandum from the Justice Department that sought to address intimidation and violent threats against school administrators and teachers.
The memorandum, which directed federal officials to hold meetings to discuss strategies for addressing the threats, has prompted sustained criticism from conservatives. Republicans say the memorandum was inappropriate and crossed a line by marshaling law enforcement resources.
Del. Stacey Plaskett, D-V.I., the ranking member of the subcommittee, in a response to those subpoenas last week said Democratic members are “ready to work on evidence-based inquiries, not wild conspiracy theories.”
“The conspiracy theories underpinning today’s subpoenas have been debunked with facts time and time again, but Republicans do not want to be bothered by this inconvenient truth,” Plaskett said. “There is no amount of documents that will satisfy the MAGA obsession with conspiracies.”