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The McCarthy-Jordan Plan to Weaponize the House

A November report on Republican grievances provides a roadmap for years of hyperpartisan investigations.
January 17, 2023
The McCarthy-Jordan Plan to Weaponize the House
(Composite by Hannah Yoest / Photos: GettyImages / Shutterstock)

If you want to know how twisted things already are under Kevin McCarthy’s days-long tenure as speaker of the House, just look at what’s on tap for the new “Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government.”

In one of his first acts as speaker, McCarthy called a vote to create a new panel with sprawling authority to investigate how conservatives are mistreated, and every Republican voted in favor. It will have subpoena power and the ability to obtain classified information and review ongoing criminal probes, including those related to January 6th.

And whom has McCarthy tapped to lead this partisan initiative? Jim Jordan, the hyperpartisan Ohio congressman who also chairs the Judiciary Committee, of which this new panel is a subcommittee.

Jordan, you will recall, played a major role in Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election, both as a mainstay on Fox News pushing false claims about election fraud and as one of Trump’s top enablers in Congress. Not that this was anything new for him. For years, Jordan used his position on the Judiciary Committee to push Trump’s conspiracy theories. And although he refused to testify to the House January 6th Committee, describing it as a “partisan witch hunt,” the committee obtained a solid tick-tock of his participation in Trump’s most serious schemes.

In its final report, the committee described how on January 2, 2021, Jordan led a conference call with Trump and several members of Congress to discuss “strategies for delaying the January 6th joint session.” Three days later, Jordan texted Mark Meadows to say that Vice President Mike Pence should “call out all the electoral votes that he believes are unconstitutional as no electoral votes at all.” Then, on the day of January 6th itself, Jordan spoke directly to Trump and Rudy Giuliani several times. The contents of these conversations remain unknown, but we do know that both Trump and Giuliani continued to push members of Congress to object to certifying the election as the attack unfolded, which Jordan did. Before Trump left office, Jordan spoke with White House staff about the possibility of Trump issuing pardons for members of Congress.

Jordan’s new subcommittee is expected to have “at least as much” funding as the January 6th Committee. The big difference, of course, is that while the January 6th Committee was investigating an attack on the U.S. government, the weaponization subcommittee will be working off an open-ended list of pent-up grievances MAGA Republicans have been stewing about since the beginning of the Trump era. Specific action items are TBA, as they keep their options open.

Rep. Thomas Massie, an expected subcommittee member who is frequently held up by MAGA media figures as a principled, libertarian thought leader, offered in support of the panel this amazing pretzel of illogic: “The things that trouble me most are the things we don’t even know about yet.”

Some Republicans have likened the new subcommittee to the Church Committee, the 1975-76 panel led by Sen. Frank Church that exposed Nixon-era intelligence abuses. The supposed throughline is that since the intelligence community secretly abused its power to spy on political activists like Martin Luther King Jr. a half-century ago, Republicans believe the government is doing it to conservatives now. “The FBI’s political targeting of President Trump is the same type of thing they did to MLK,” tweeted Marjorie Taylor Greene. “They always abuse their power to take down their political enemies.”

Critics of the new subcommittee, including staffers who served on the Church Committee, have pointed out how bogus this comparison is. But you don’t have to be an expert in the history of the Church Committee to realize that Jim Jordan is not going to helm a panel that produces well-thought-out and lasting reforms. Instead of a neo–Church Committee, think of the new weaponization subcommittee as something like the Benghazi hearings led by the Trump impeachment defense team.

Kevin McCarthy has fond memories of the last special committee he put together to investigate Benghazi. “Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right?” McCarthy famously said back in 2015. “But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she’s untrustable. But no one would have known any of that had happened had we not fought and made that happen.”

Congressional observers are very familiar with Jordan’s antics and how he plays to the MAGA base. Trump awarded Jordan the Presidential Medal of Freedom on January 11, 2021, for, according to a statement, his performance in the 2016 Benghazi investigation, “exposing the fraudulent origins of the Russia collusion lie,” and his “effort to confront the impeachment witch hunt.” (Oddly, no reporters or photographers were present for the ceremony.)

Jordan’s GOP staffers on the Judiciary Committee recently produced the “Kanye. Elon. Trump.” tweet that stayed up for two months before Kayne made enough antisemitic comments to warrant deletion. The Judiciary GOP account is well-known for its trollish tweets boosting Jordan, attacking Biden, and sounding off on conservative outrages du jour.

In more serious preparation for this new role, Jordan’s committee staff last November released a 1,050-page “report”—1,000 pages of which was just a compilation of letters Jordan sent to various agencies since 2021—documenting what they see as politicization inside the FBI and the Department of Justice. And it contained exactly the kind of rhetoric one would expect from Trump’s most hyperbolic supporters:

The problem lies, for example, with the FBI hierarchy that spied on President Trump’s campaign and ridiculed conservative Americans. The problem lies with FBI bureaucrats who altered and mischaracterized evidence to federal courts, circumvented safeguards, and exploited weaknesses in policies governing investigations and informants to target politically disfavored subjects and to protect favored ones. The problem lies with the FBI structure that centralizes high-profile cases in D.C., in the hands of politicized actors with politicized incentives. Quite simply, the problem—the rot within the FBI—festers in and proceeds from Washington.

Beyond its bluster, though, the November report will likely be a roadmap for the new weaponization subcommittee. It consolidates as many of the various grievances held by conservatives as Jordan’s staff could gather up, and so can now be used to direct that storm of indignation and rage over discrete targets—namely, President Biden and his appointees inside the FBI and Department of Justice.

The report divides these grievances into two main categories: first, the umbrella claim that the FBI is “abusing its law enforcement authorities for political reasons”; second, that the bureau is “purging conservative employees” while “helping to censor conservative viewpoints online.” It states that “President Biden has shown no problem in labeling his political opponents as racists, fascists, and domestic terrorists,” and that, far from resisting Biden’s wanton accusations, the FBI has joined in the political oppression by falsifying cases of domestic terrorism, amping up or suppressing stories based on political considerations, and other malevolent acts intended to serve the administration’s political agenda.

These are dramatic claims, and so, to prove that their allegations have merit, Jordan’s committee provides a few examples.

For example, the report says that the FBI cynically used its January 6th investigation as a pretense to, through purported administrative malfeasance related to case filing, trump up the number of domestic terrorism cases nationwide, framing the Capitol insurrection as one point on a larger trend line threatening populations across the country rather than, as one of their FBI whistleblowers described to the committee, a “single black swan incident.” It claims the bureau thereby created “the illusion that FBI field offices around the country are investigating a groundswell of domestic terrorism cases” when “the cases all stem from the same related investigation concerning the actions at the Capitol on January 6.”

Jordan’s team also cast a suspicious eye on the relatively efficient investigation and prosecution of January 6th rioters, contrasting those proceedings with the “slow pace” of the FBI’s investigation of the pipe bombs placed outside Republican National Committee and Democratic National Committee offices. “Three [sic] appears to be a disparity in how the FBI and Justice Department are pursuing January 6-related matters,” the report said—before suggesting that only a political motivation can explain the disparity.

Jordan’s November report also said the FBI “appears to have manufactured” the case regarding the attempted kidnapping of Michigan Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and “downplayed and sought to reduce the spread of the serious allegations of wrongdoing leveled against Hunter Biden.”

The report raised “serious concerns” about the conditions of January 6th pretrial defendants and favorably referred to testimony given to a congressional subcommittee by American Greatness writer Julie Kelly (a writer who appears to believe that January 6th was a hoax that then–Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi may have been “complicit” in “manufacturing”).

Jordan’s staffers argue the lack of responsiveness to inquiries from Republicans about January 6th pretrial defendants, the apparently stalled pipe bomb investigations, and related matters proves the FBI is working on “a partisan basis” that is “inconsistent with the FBI’s purported impartiality,” and that “further erodes public confidence in the FBI’s leadership.”

The committee goes on to accuse the Justice Department and FBI of:

  • “Using counterterrorism resources to target parents resisting a far-left educational curriculum”;
  • Abusing FISA resources to surveil former Trump aide Carter Page;
  • Allowing “attacks on pro-life facilities and churches to go unabated, while pushing an anti-life agenda” and using “thuggish” tactics to arrest pro-life protester Mark Houch; and
  • Moving to “terminat[e] the employment of FBI employees who were engaged in protected First Amendment activity on January 6, 2021.”

And just in the last few days, Jordan has been given an unexpected political gift in the form of breaking news about classified documents inappropriately kept in Biden’s private possession. The report harshly criticized the FBI for its “unprecedented raid” on Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence to retrieve classified documents and commented that, “The way that the FBI and Justice Department used their law-enforcement authorities to raid President Trump’s residence differed drastically from the kid-glove treatment it gave former Secretary Hillary Clinton.” The Biden revelation is likely to surge to the top of Jordan’s nascent oversight agenda; he is already juicing it for corroboration of law enforcement’s political double-standard:

Of course, it’s no matter that these are scenarios with salient differences, such as the fact that Biden’s staff have cooperated to return the documents upon discovery whereas Trump’s lawyers obstructed the process of their identification and return at virtually every opportunity. And never mind that, as Frederick Baron and Dennis Aftergut argue, Jordan’s attempt to drag Merrick Garland and the Department of Justice into this scandal is an example of overreach. For Jim Jordan’s weaponization subcommittee, the political potential is just too great to pay too much heed to the truth of things.

Stay tuned. Fox News certainly will—they helped originate it, after all.

The weaponization subcommittee is arguably the brainchild of Fox primetime host Tucker Carlson, whose controversial documentary, “Patriot Purge,” frames January 6th as a government-led false flag operation against Trump voters, one that signals a new, partisan direction in the domestic war on terrorism.

Carlson called for the creation of the committee as a condition for Republicans to support McCarthy as speaker, saying “a new Frank Church committee” is needed “to discover what the FBI and the intel agencies have been doing to control domestic politics in this country.”

“The FBI is now a bigger force in American elections than any single group of voters,” Carlson said. “This cannot continue. It is poison, and Kevin McCarthy is uniquely situated right now to stop it.”

After McCarthy greenlit the committee, Massie appeared on Carlson’s show and said, “I don’t know if you are clairvoyant or just made the future happen, but it’s happening.”

And it’s going to keep happening for a while: The committee is authorized through the next presidential election, and the final report isn’t due until January 2, 2025.

Sean Hannity is also on board. McCarthy gave Hannity his first television interview upon becoming speaker, and Hannity opened that conversation by lauding “222 people”—that is, all the House Republicans—for “agree[ing] on Jim Jordan’s investigation.”

Jordan spoke with conspiracist extraordinaire Maria Bartiromo on Sunday. They commiserated about how badly the FBI treated Trump and the need for the FBI to stay out of future elections.

“Can you and these committees improve things before 2024?” Bartiromo asked. “Are you going to be able to get a handle on this?”

“Step one in stopping this behavior is first exposing it. . . . That’s why Speaker McCarthy has established this select committee,” Jordan assured her.

Thanks to the creation of this subcommittee, everyone seems to think McCarthy is off to a good start uniting the party. For those outside the bubble, it should be viewed as a warning sign. House Republicans, as a body, showed no hesitation at all in organizing and deploying vast government resources to investigate their perceived political enemies. Even if it means that the FBI, once an institution strongly supported by the GOP, will be squarely in the crosshairs.

Weaponization subcommittee, indeed.

Amanda Carpenter

Amanda Carpenter is an author, a former communications director to Sen. Ted Cruz, and a former speechwriter to Sen. Jim DeMint. She was formerly a Bulwark political columnist.