Support The Bulwark and subscribe today.
  Join Now

Three Things the House GOP Should Look Into

The new Republican majority is hellbent on launching investigations. Here are a few subjects eminently worthy of their attention.
February 28, 2023
Three Things the House GOP Should Look Into
Republican lawmaker George Santos is seen outside his office in Washington, D.C., the United States, Jan. 25, 2023. (Photo by Aaron Schwartz/Xinhua via Getty Images)

As Republicans start yanking the reins of power in the U.S. House of Representatives, we have entered a new era of investigations. No longer are resources being squandered on trivialities like the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol and the threat it posed to American democracy. Now the focus is on things the GOP cares about.

Many of their concerns may seem a bit ironic. Like labeling Hunter Biden a grifter while pretending that Donald Trump Jr. is not. Or claiming that Joe Biden but not Trump Sr. mismanaged the COVID-19 pandemic. Or that Biden bears sole responsibility for our military’s disastrous rapid withdrawal from Afghanistan, even though Trump gave the order for it after negotiating with the Taliban and tried to accelerate the timeline following his election loss. And then there’s the committee looking into whether Biden has weaponized the federal government against his political rivals, which Trump did all the time.

No matter. But in the “anything goes” ethos of the current political environment, we might as well cast a wide net. Here are three other things that really ought to be looked into.

Why Isn’t This Woman a National Hero?

Emily Kohrs burst into the public eye like a firecracker. She’s the foreperson of the Georgia special grand jury that spent nearly eight months investigating whether Donald Trump and others broke the law in their efforts to subvert that state’s 2020 election result. She gave a series of interviews last week in which she revealed that the special grand jury recommended more than a dozen indictments. Asked whether Trump was on the list, she teased, “I don’t think you will be shocked.”

And, in one of the clips for which she’s been unfairly mocked, Kohrs said “I’m not going to speak on exact indictments,” then made this face:

Kohrs’s mugging for the camera and generally squirrelly demeanor are distracting and have alarmed some commentators, and her revelation that jurors attended an ice cream social put on by the district attorney’s office raised concerns about chumminess. But it’s worth noting that she actually has been careful to observe her responsibilities as a member of the jury.

Here’s what we know about Emily Kohrs. She’s a 30-year-old Atlanta-area resident. She didn’t vote in the 2020 election that’s at the center of the special grand jury’s work, nor in the 2016 election before it. She was between jobs when she reported for jury duty and ended up spending the better part of a year seeing evidence and hearing the testimony of 75 witnesses. And she is deeply grateful to have done so.

“I loved being a part of this process,” Kohrs told CNN, in an interview everyone should watch: “I think it’s a privilege to be able to actually be a part of the system for once and making it work.” She said having “the curtain lifted just a little bit and let us peek in as regular people has been amazing. And I’m so glad that I did it.”

Indeed, Kohrs said the selection of “regular people” like herself to serve on the grand jury demonstrates a commitment to fairness:

If they had wanted someone who was just going to support their opinions, they could have gone and hired a bunch of legal experts. There were all kinds of choices that could have been made there. But they chose to get a random sampling of the population of the area, and I think that speaks really strongly to them trying to avoid bias in any way, in trying to avoid politics.

Kohrs said the grand jury “heard a lot of very compelling things” and admitted she would be “sad” and “frustrated” if nothing came of its recommended indictments. “This was too much, too much information, too much of my time, too much of everyone’s time, too much of their time, too much argument in court about getting people to appear before us. There was just too much for this to just be, ‘Oh, okay, we’re good, bye.’ ”

Trump, in a typically blustery Truth Social post, blasted Kohrs for “going around and doing a Media Tour revealing, incredibly, the Grand Jury’s inner workings & thoughts,” which she did not do. He called it “an illegal Kangaroo Court,” adding “All I did is make TWO PERFECT PHONE CALLS!!!”—a reference to his attempts to pressure Georgia state officials to “find 11,780 votes” that didn’t, and still don’t, exist.

Some commentators have raised concerns that Kohrs may have “complicated” the investigation by speaking out, as though Trump might otherwise have conceded that it was a fair process. “Several legal experts said they were surprised and concerned by Kohrs’s unusually candid commentary,” reported the Washington Post. And yet, as the paper went on to say, “Some scholars familiar with Georgia criminal procedure said Kohrs did not appear to violate any state laws by divulging details of the case.”

Watch the interview and see that Kohrs is always measured and reflective and careful not to cross the lines she’s been asked not to cross. She is bright and articulate and, like the others who served as grand jurors and alternates, she gave a considerable chunk of her life to hear evidence in this historically momentous case and do her duty as a citizen to render a fair assessment.

“I think we were empaneled to find facts,” Kohrs said in response to the sadly inevitable question as to whether she feared for her safety. “And I think we did our best to find those facts and share those facts with the district attorney and her office.”

Congress needs to hold immediate hearings in which we get to hear more from Emily Kohrs.

Is Ron DeSantis a Sadistic Torturer?

The newly published March issue of Harper’s magazine contains an explosive transcript of an interview of Mansoor Adayfi, a former detainee at Guantánamo Bay, conducted by an Iraq War veteran named Mike Prysner. It aired on the Eyes Left podcast last November.

Adayfi, of Yemen, spent 14 years at the U.S. naval base in Cuba without ever being charged with a crime; he was released to Serbia in 2016. In the podcast interview, he describes in sickening detail the response in 2006 to a prisoner hunger strike by U.S. military personnel, including a Navy JAG lawyer in his late twenties named Ron DeSantis.

DeSantis, now the Republican governor of Florida with his eye on the White House, initially presented as being on the prisoners’ side, Adayfi says. He would ask the detainees if there were any issues they wanted to report (“I’m here to ensure that you are treated humanely”) only to later use the information he gathered against them by supplying it to their interrogators.

That was by no means the worst of it. The response of the administration to the hunger strike was to nasally force-feed the prisoners with cans of Ensure, a nutritional shake. Detainees were restrained in a feeding chair, tied at the head, shoulders, wrists, thighs, and legs, and then had metal-tipped feeding tubes painfully inserted into their noses, causing them to bleed. And through it all, Adayfi relates:

Ron DeSantis was there watching us. We were crying, screaming. We were tied to the feeding chair. And he was watching. He was laughing. Our stomachs could not hold this amount of Ensure. They poured one can after another. So when he approached me, I said, “This is the way we are treated!” He said, “You should eat.” I threw up in his face. Literally on his face.

This comeuppance, comments Prysner, “was well deserved. A JAG lawyer at the time, [DeSantis] would have been well aware this was a violation of international law. There is no question that it was torture.”

Adayfi alleges that the Ensure was laced with “some kind of laxative” so he and the other prisoners were “shitting ourselves all the time.” After these sessions, “we were moved to solitary confinement—really cold cells. It was like five times a day. It wasn’t feeding. It was just torture. Five times a day.”

He says the guards also beat them, with DeSantis standing by. In Adayfi’s words:

And if we screamed or were bleeding out of our nose and mouth, they were like, “Eat.” The only word they told you was “eat.” We were beaten all day long. Whatever you were doing—they just beat you. Pepper spray, beating, sleep deprivation. That continued for three months. And he was there. He was one of the people that supervised the torture, the abuses, the beatings. All the time at Guantánamo.

Prysner: “So Ron DeSantis was actually supervising torture, beatings? He was supervising these force-feedings?”

Adayfi: “I’m telling Americans: This guy is a torturer. He is a criminal. He was laughing. And he was there to ensure we were treated humanely.”

There has actually been quite a bit of online interest in this topic (Google “Ron DeSantis” and “torture”), albeit not by the major media outlets. DeSantis and his office have not responded to requests for comment.

DeSantis joined the Navy in 2004 and became a lieutenant commander and Navy Judge Advocate General’s corps (JAG) lawyer. The JAG corps is tasked with providing “targeted legal solutions” regarding military operations. DeSantis was assigned to Guantánamo in March 2006. He left active service in 2010 and remained in the Navy reserves until February 14, 2019, shortly after being inaugurated as Florida’s governor.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the American Civil Liberties Union, among others, have documented and decried the use of torture at Guantánamo, where prisoners were sent for years without charge after the attacks of 9/11. And according to Amnesty International, “grave human rights abuses” are still happening there.

Of course, for various reasons, none of them good, this is not a matter the GOP-led U.S. House will likely take up. But someone should, no? The U.S. Senate? The International Court of Justice? Emily Kohrs?

The charge that DeSantis condoned and even took part in torture at a facility where it was occurring is hardly difficult to believe. This is a guy who engineered a scheme to con immigrants from Venezuela who arrived in Texas—not even his own state—to board a plane that dropped them off at Martha’s Vineyard as a cruel political stunt.

Get-to-the-bottomers, get to it.

Why Won’t George Santos Go Away?

No, I don’t mean: Why won’t Rep. George Santos, Republican of New York, accept the judgment of his colleagues and constituents and resign the position to which he was elected after lying profusely about his past?

Clearly, Santos is not going to do that. Nor does he have any intention to stop lying, as his interview last week with Piers Morgan attested. There, Santos repeated and defended his false claims to be Jewish—or “Jew-ish,” as he parsed it. He lied anew about having attended a prestigious private prep school. And he doubled down on his denial of having ripped off money that was raised to help a military veteran’s dying dog.

Investigations into some of these things are already happening. But the one I’m calling for is this: Why won’t the image of George Santos as a bobblehead doll stop showing up on my laptop? 

The backstory: About a month ago, I got an email from the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum in Milwaukee, notifying me of the impending availability of George Santos bobbleheads. I clicked on the link to the Santos bobbleheads, which shows there are two versions that can be preordered for when they become available in May—one with him just standing there all bobble-y, and one in which he has a ginormous protruding nose, a la Pinochio. They are $30 each or $55 for the set of two, plus an $8 shipping charge per order. The National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum says it will be donating $5 for every bobblehead sold to “dog-related GoFundMe Campaigns.” I didn’t buy anything.

Afterward, George began popping up all over. He was there, reminding me of my possible interest in buying him, every time I went to a website with pop-up ads, of which there are many. There was this:

And this:

And this:

And this:

And many more I could show you but won’t.

If the members of Congress have time to investigate Google and other tech companies for allegedly using recommendation algorithms, “blacklists,” and other tricks to silence conservative voices—which no one has noticed actually happening, but Ted Cruz and others have claimed—they ought to look into how even the most casual interest in a George Santos bobblehead can occasion an internet stalking.

Please, Congress. Do. Something. About. It.

Bill Lueders

Bill Lueders, former editor and now editor-at-large of The Progressive, is a writer in Madison, Wisconsin.