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House panel on 'weaponization' of the government's first hearing takes aim at DOJ, FBI

Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, left, speaks as Del. Stacey Plaskett, D-Virgin Islands, the ranking member, right, listens, during a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing on what Republicans say is the politicization of the FBI and Justice Department and attacks on American civil liberties.
Carolyn Kaster
/
AP
Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, left, speaks as Del. Stacey Plaskett, D-Virgin Islands, the ranking member, right, listens, during a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing on what Republicans say is the politicization of the FBI and Justice Department and attacks on American civil liberties.

Updated February 9, 2023 at 5:51 PM ET

A new House panel investigating the "weaponization of the federal government" held its first hearing on Thursday, as part of the Republican majority's push to ramp up scrutiny of the Biden administration.

Republicans and Democrats traded attacks during the hours-long meeting for the House Judiciary Committee's select subpanel. Chairman Jim Jordan, the Ohio Republican who leads both the full committee and the new subcommittee, laid out his party's plans.

"We expect to hear from Americans who have been targeted by their government," Jordan said as part of a longer list of GOP grievances.

The panel's ranking Democrat, Del. Stacey Plaskett, said the panel's Republicans are fueling dangerous rhetoric for law enforcement through its efforts. Plaskett represents the U.S. Virgin Islands and served as a House manager during former President Trump's second impeachment trial.

"I'm deeply concerned about the use of the select subcommittee as a place to settle scores, showcase conspiracy theories and advance an extreme agenda that risks undermining Americans' faith in our democracy," she said.

Republicans have repeatedly promised to investigate President Biden and his administration, Democrats, the Biden family and GOP claims of partisan efforts if they won control of Congress in last year's midterm elections.

The new subcommittee hearing is the latest effort to make good on that promise. Hardline conservatives had pushed for the panel's formation in negotiations with now-Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

What will the committee do?

The subcommittee is expected to probe claims that the Department of Justice, FBI and other federal agencies are biased against conservatives. Republicans have voiced a long list of concerns, alleging the department mishandled allegations against former President Donald Trump, abused its surveillance powers and retaliated against parents who spoke out at school board meetings.

The panel said Thursday's hearing would look at "the politicization of the FBI and DOJ and attacks on American civil liberties." Witnesses included Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., for Republicans and the House Oversight Committee ranking member, Maryland Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin.

Raskin told NPR last month that "oversight is not about scandal mongering and sticking it to the other guys."

Already this session, the Republican-controlled House Judiciary and Oversight committees have held hearings on Biden's border policies, federal COVID relief spending and Twitter's handling of allegations surrounding Hunter Biden's laptop. GOP lawmakers, led by Jordan and Oversight Chairman Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., also intend to investigate the military withdrawal from Afghanistan, and whether Biden engaged in what they have called "influence peddling" while serving as vice president.

Before the meeting began, Ian Sams, Special Assistant to the President, released a memo attacking the hearing's objectives, citing recent polls.

One of those surveys suggests a larger perception problem for the subcommittee: 56 percent of Americans said the panel is "just an attempt to score political points" in a Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Lexie Schapitl
Lexie Schapitl is a production assistant with NPR's Washington Desk, where she produces radio pieces and digital content. She also reports from the field and assists with production of the NPR Politics Podcast.
Claudia Grisales
Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.