Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) had a question this past weekend.
Why should he be prevented from investigating a criminal investigation into him, using the power that he has in Congress?
“Why should I be limited, why should anybody be limited, just because someone has made an accusation? Everybody in America is innocent until proven otherwise,” Perry told ABC News. “I would say this: The American people are really, really tired of the persecution and instruments of federal power being used against them.”
Perry helped bring the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government into existence, reportedly requesting it in exchange for voting for Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) for speaker. It’s the House GOP majority’s latest attempt to stoke outrage about supposed abuse of government power — as always, against conservatives — and investigate those who investigated, or may in the future investigate, them.
The committee has a rich heritage, including the endless congressional investigation into the bogus 2013 IRS scandal pushed by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Wednesday’s House Oversight Committee hearing on the “Twitter Files” in which Republicans sought to claim that Twitter, working in cahoots with anonymous federal bureaucrats, unfairly censored conservatives.
For a party that has an ideological commitment to portraying the government as irredeemably incompetent or corrupt, the weaponization committee doesn’t necessarily represent a departure. But something new lies in how personal the panel’s plans are.
It’s an effort to portray years of law enforcement investigations as politically motivated, the product of a government that the committee casts as corrupt in cartoonish ways. And while Congress has a long history of conducted needed oversight of law enforcement, in this case, as with Perry, the investigations in question concern the allies of many of those sitting on and directing the panel.
In many cases, they concern the panel members themselves.
RonJon and more
The committee is holding its first hearing on Thursday, as a subcommittee underneath the umbrella of the House Judiciary Committee.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) will chair the panel; Del. Stacey Plaskett (D-VI) is the ranking member from the Dem side.
The witnesses are mostly Republican politicians.
Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) of the Senate Judiciary Committee will appear alongside Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), famous in recent years for his wholehearted embrace of the wackier fringes of GOP conspiracy-mongering. Former Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) will join that panel, as will Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD).
A second panel will veer away from career politicians and towards the world of legal punditry.
Jonathan Turley, the conservative movement attorney, will appear, as will Nicole Parker, a former FBI Special Agent.
Parker wrote a column for Fox News in January citing an image of FBI agents kneeling as part of the 2020 George Floyd protests as an example of the “weaponization” of federal law enforcement.
“On top of that, there was no reprimand for any of the agents who knelt that day,” she wrote. “In fact, many ended up getting highly sought-after promotions and were offered $100 gift cards by the FBI Agents Association.”
Elliot Williams, a CNN legal analyst, will also appear, as will Thomas Baker, a former FBI agent who wrote a book contending that the agency’s post-9/11 shift into counterintelligence opened the door to politicized investigations, citing Trump-Russia as an example.
Where did this come from?
Part of it is the long history of the GOP using Congress to paint the disfavored arm of the government du jour as alternately incompetent or corrupt.
The 2013 IRS imbroglio featured House Republicans ginning up allegations that the agency was perpetrating a national conspiracy after two employees at a regional office used search terms to identify non-profit dark money groups, many of which were right-wing, as more likely to be evading taxes.
That was followed by the Select Committee on Benghazi, a multi-year effort to suggest that the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya was the product of a shadowy Obama-Clinton conspiracy.
What makes 2023’s weaponization committee different, however, is that several members of the panel have faced or continue to face investigations from the agencies that they will spotlight. Their fury toward the agencies and events in question is not ideological, its personal.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), for example, reportedly faced a high-profile investigation into allegations of sex trafficking in 2021. That probe did not result in charges, and Gaetz has not been formally accused of any wrongdoing. But, he’s on the panel.
The aforementioned Rep. Perry, who was a key player in the attempt to subvert the 2020 election and faces multiple Jan. 6-related investigations, is not on the panel itself. But he spoke in favor of its creation last month, asking on the House floor, “How many more times do we have to say ‘I told you so’ before you will recognize the overwhelming power and the abuse of power by this federal government?” McCarthy, he said, promised him the committee would be created.
Perry continues to fight a secret court battle to block the feds from accessing the contents of his phone.