The House is poised to set up a special panel to scrutinize investigations by the Justice Department and other agencies, including into ongoing criminal inquiries and alleged pressure on social media companies.
Proponents of the committee say the intention is to expose civil rights abuses by government agencies through criminal investigations and the collection of citizen information. Its broad mandate could include seeking information about current probes involving former President Donald Trump.
Democratic critics say it risks exposing details about investigations and intelligence and would instead promote conspiracy theories about the Justice Department, the FBI and U.S. spy agencies.
The select subcommittee on “the Weaponization of the Federal Government” will be led by Ohio Republican Jim Jordan, the Judiciary chair and a vocal Trump booster. It is one of the multiple investigations Republicans have vowed to conduct into President Joe Biden, his family and his administration.
“It’s pretty basic,” Jordan said Tuesday. “The political nature of the Justice Department — that has been pretty far-reaching.”
Jordan said the panel also will tackle whether government officials pressured social media companies to censor or limit conservative viewpoints. He cited disclosures made since Elon Musk bought Twitter.
“I think we’ve learned a lot of valuable information,” he said. “Like a crime scene.”
Establishing the panel under the Judiciary Committee was one of the demands from conservatives for their votes to elect Kevin McCarthy as House speaker. In his first speech as speaker, McCarthy promised to use “the power of the purse and the power of subpoena” to hold government agencies accountable.
Along with subpoena power, the panel’s tools will include sharing access to potentially sensitive information typically reserved for the House Intelligence Committee on U.S. intelligence-gathering activities. That and demands for information about Justice Department investigations are sure to set up likely showdowns with the Biden administration, which criticized the move as a partisan maneuver.
“House Republicans continue to focus on launching partisan political stunts driven by the most extreme MAGA members of their caucus instead of joining the President to tackle the issues the American people care about most like inflation,” White House spokesman Ian Sams said in an email.
There’s been a longstanding Justice Department policy to decline congressional committees access to open law enforcement files.
Republicans likened the investigation to the probe led by then-Senator Frank Church, an Idaho Democrat, in 1975 that led to revelations of surveillance against U.S. citizens, overseas propaganda campaigns by the CIA, and other abuses, and ushered in reforms.
But Democrats rejected that comparison.
“House Republicans claim to be investigating the weaponization of the federal government when, in fact, this new select subcommittee appears to be the weapon itself,” New York Representative Jerrold Nadler, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said in a statement. “Democrats will fight tooth and nail to prevent Republicans from using taxpayer resources to protect Donald Trump and extremist allies from legal scrutiny.”
The 13-member subcommittee will have five Democrats.