Watch Fox News? GOP's opener to politicized-government probe will look familiar

  • In Politics
  • 2023-02-09 09:30:00Z
  • By Politico

House Republicans' heavily promoted bid to examine what they claim is excessive politicization within the federal government begins Thursday with a lineup straight out of Fox News.

Two GOP witnesses who will set the tone for its work - former Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who recently left the Democratic Party, and former FBI agent Nicole Parker- are currently employed Fox News contributors with gripes against their onetime employers to match.

It's a stark indication of who the GOP lawmakers who make up the Judiciary Committee's new subpanel on so-called "weaponization" view as their target audience. And it presages intense skirmishes to come with the panel's Democrats.

What, if any, new information will come out of Thursday's first hearing remains unclear. Instead, Republicans appear poised to use the moment - and the significant audience it's likely to draw - to amplify a long list of perceived slights, all of them linked to a thesis underlying much of the House GOP investigative agenda: that Democrats have deployed powers of the federal government against conservatives. That claim has taken root in conservative circles despite dubious supporting evidence.

It's not just the Fox News contributors who will set the panel up to deliver a grievance-fueled message to the party base. The GOP witnesses include two GOP senators - Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin - as well as constitutional lawyer Jonathan Turley, a favored witness for Republicans in recent years. Another former FBI official, Thomas Baker, is also slated to testify.

GOP members are defending their strategy, even while acknowledging they don't totally know what will come from Thursday's hearing.

"They have very specific stories to tell. We'll see what they say … but this hearing was needed, outside of all of the politicization," said Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.), a member of the panel.

Asked if the hearing would include new information or more set the stage for his larger investigative theme, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the subcommittee's chair, argued that Johnson, Grassley and Gabbard have a "unique" and "important perspective."

It's the panel's first hearing after Speaker Kevin McCarthy agreed to create it last month as he sought to lock down conservative votes and win the gavel. And the broad scope of the hearing - the "weaponization of the federal government," a mission similar to the panel's own name - is likely to serve as a springboard into a litany of topics that all fuel outrage on the right, although many of the GOP witnesses are particularly critical of the FBI's actions dating back to the 2016 presidential campaign.

And the vast scope of the hearing in some ways mirrors the panel's blurry boundary lines in its relationships with other House investigative work. Many of the 12 Republicans on the subcommittee - including Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), Dan Bishop (R-N.C.) and Mike Johnson (R-La.) - have suggested they want to dig into matters that are also being pursued by the wider Judiciary Committee, the Oversight Committee and other panels.

Jordan, who chairs the Judiciary panel and the new subcommittee, wields subpoena power for both panels, making him primarily responsible for sorting out any overlap in jurisdiction. Oversight Committee Chair James Comer (R-Ky.) has stressed his coordination with Jordan, who preceded him as the top Republican there.

Democrats, mindful of the TV-caliber lineup, selected their own camera-friendly witnesses. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) - a constitutional lawyer and veteran of recent major Democratic investigations - will sit alongside Grassley, Johnson and Gabbard, ready to parry allegations that his party regards as conspiracy theories. And Elliot Williams, a former Obama Justice Department official who now contributes to CNN, will take questions alongside the other witnesses during a second panel.

Democrats say they are largely in the dark about what to expect from Republicans at Thursday's hearing, but they argue that the opposing party has made its preferred narrative clear.

"We'll be prepared … based on what they've said publicly. We'll be ready to go to work," Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) said in a brief interview.

Aides confirmed that Grassley, Johnson, Gabbard and Raskin will only give statements. It's a standard practice for members, aides and members said, but a decision that will spare them from questions that would force them to go toe-to-toe with their political opponents.

The decision to rely heavily on GOP, or GOP-aligned witnesses, is a sharp-turn from the last prominent select committee - the Jan. 6 panel. That Democrat-run investigation largely relied on Republicans and officials within Trump's orbit to tell the story of his attempt to overturn the 2020 election, culminating in the violent attack on the Capitol.

Grassley and Johnson are expected to discuss, among other matters, their Hunter Biden investigation and their belief that the then-Trump-era FBI worked to undercut their probe of the now-president's son as the 2020 election drew closer.

Johnson, a spokesperson said, will talk about what he sees as the "coordination between government agencies, Democrat members of Congress, and the liberal media to suppress and censor the truth."

A House Democratic aide who spoke on condition of anonymity said the minority party is hoping that Raskin, by comparison, will be "a calm and sober voice on what will be a wild first panel."

"He's going to talk about the threats to our democracy posed by this select committee and why weaponizing congressional oversight against your political opponents is so dangerous," the aide added.


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