Tuesday Reads: GOP Clown Show
Posted: January 10, 2023 Filed under: Afternoon Reads, Donald Trump, just because | Tags: classified documents, Department of Justice, Freedom Caucus, GOP "investigations", GOP clown show, House of Representatives, House rules package, IRS, Jim Jordan, Joe Biden, Kevin McCarthy
Clowns, by Philippe Jacquot
The GOP clown show has begun. Last night House Republicans voted to gut the House ethics committee as part of a rules package agreed to by Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Also in the rules package, they approved a new subcommittee under the Judiciary Committee headed by Rep. Jim Jordan that will supposedly investigate the “weaponization” of the federal government. In the first bill taken up by the new House, they voted to eliminate funding for new IRS agents that was included in the Inflation Reduction Act.
Hugo Lowell at The Guardian: House Republicans move to defang ethics office investigating its members.
House Republicans moved to pre-emptively kill any investigations against its members as it curtailed the power of an independent ethics office just as it was weighing whether to open inquiries into lawmakers who defied subpoenas issued by the House January 6 select committee last year.
The incoming Republican majority also paved the way for a new special subcommittee with a wide mandate to investigate the US justice department and intelligence agencies, which could include reviewing the criminal investigations into Donald Trump and a Republican congressman caught up in the Capitol attack inquiry.
The measures took effect as House Republicans narrowly passed the new rules package that included the changes for the next Congress, 220-213, setting the stage for politically charged fights with the Biden administration over access to classified materials and details of criminal investigations.
Seeking to protect itself, the rules package first undercut the ability of the office of congressional ethics (OCE) to function, with changes that struck at its principal vulnerabilities to defang its investigative powers for at least the next two years, according to sources familiar with its operation.
The changes to the OCE are twofold: reintroducing term limits for members of the bipartisan board, which would force out three of four Democratic-appointed members, and restricting its ability to hire professional staff to the first 30 days of the new congressional session.
The issue with the changes, the Guardian previously reported, is that the OCE requires board approval to open new investigations, while new hires are typically approved by the board. The term limits would mean Democrats need to find new board members, which can take months – far longer than the 30-day hiring period.
In essence, the changes mean that by the time the OCE has a board, it may have run out of time to hire staff, leaving it with one counsel to do possible investigations into the new House speaker, Kevin McCarthy, and other Republican lawmakers who defied January 6 select committee subpoenas.
Politico’s Kyle Cheney on the planned “weaponization” subcommittee: Mutually assured obstruction: House GOP aims ‘weaponization’ panel at DOJ.
House Republicans are declaring what amounts to an investigative war on the Biden administration, pledging to probe “ongoing criminal investigations” at the Justice Department.
Veterans of some of Congress’ recent major probes, and the department itself, predict that they’ll be told to pound sand.
Evil Clown vs Smiley, by Herr Karl
GOP lawmakers are dramatically escalating their standoff with the administration by launching a wide-ranging investigative panel to probe what they call the “weaponization of government.” It’s a broad mandate that will allow the party to look into any government agency or program that it views as suspect, including the FBI, IRS and the intelligence community — making good on a key demand of a band of hardline conservatives who opposed Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s bid for the gavel.
And it’s an opening salvo that promises to escalate quickly. The Justice Department is certain to fiercely protect its most sensitive investigative files and prosecutors are simply not going to hand over information on open criminal probes, legal experts say. The resulting conflict promises to erode the already strained relationship between DOJ and congressional Republicans.
“This will be a separation of powers hornets’ nest,” said former House General Counsel Stan Brand, who represented witnesses before the Jan. 6 select committee, including Dan Scavino, a top adviser to former President Donald Trump. “In order to insulate the process from taint, [DOJ] will have to draw clearer ‘lines in the sand’ over what they will provide.”
The genesis of the proposed select panel — which would operate underneath the Judiciary Committee, chaired by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) — has exacerbated concerns among DOJ allies about how GOP lawmakers will use their broad directive.
Notably, those seeking to access ongoing criminal matters are among the staunchest political allies of the former president whose efforts to overturn the 2020 election are the subject of a special counsel investigation. Several GOP members of Congress — including House Freedom Caucus Chair Scott Perry (R-Va.) — allied closely with Trump, prompting the department to scrutinize their actions.
Perry declined to rule out serving on the panel in an ABC interview on Sunday, asking: “Why should anybody be limited just because someone has made an accusation? Everybody in America is innocent until proven otherwise.”
Both Perry and Jordan were subpoenaed by the Jan. 6 select committee to testify about events surrounding the Capitol attack by a mob of the former president’s supporters. Both declined to comply with the subpoena.
Though GOP leaders have not yet announced any members of the new investigative panel, McCarthy has indicated to House Republicans that he anticipates Jordan will lead it. Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.), who pushed for the investigative body for months, is viewed as a likely member. Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) has also said publicly he expects to participate.
There’s much more on the plans for the new subcommittee at the link. I can’t imagine these bozos will pry anything from the DOJ. There’s obviously a serious separation of powers issue there.
Republicans in the House also plan to “investigate” the origins of the Covid pandemic. The Washington Post: House GOP to embark on sweeping probe of covid origin, U.S. response.
House Republicans on Monday commissioned a special investigative panel focused on the coronavirus pandemic, hoping to leverage their new, powerful majority to press scientists and federal officials about the origin of the public health crisis and the government’s response to it.
Lovely Clown, by Leonid Afrenov
Party lawmakers officially chartered the new effort in a sprawling package setting the chamber’s rules for the next two years, awarding it a sweeping mandate — from looking into vaccine development, school closures and other mitigation measures to examining the roughly $5 trillion in emergency federal aid approved since early 2020.
Republicans have long derided Democrats, public health experts and others who advocated for an aggressive government response to covid-19, which has claimed millions of lives globally. At the center of GOP criticism is the suspicion that the coronavirus originated out of laboratory experiments in Wuhan, China, potentially backed by U.S. money — a view at odds with peer-reviewed scientific papers pointing to a more likely origin in a Wuhan market.
In the process, Republican lawmakers also have clashed with scientists and doctors on a wide array of policies meant to arrest the spread of the virus — opposing vaccine mandates, blasting in-person capacity limits and rejecting new federal funding for tests, treatments and other tools.
With new control of the House, however, the GOP aims to surface those concerns in a more prominent setting, questioning a wide array of current and former government officials, potentially including Anthony S. Fauci, the former head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The panel, officially named as the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic, essentially replaces a Democrat-led legislative body that had focused its work on monitoring emergency coronavirus aid for fraud. Under Republicans, it does not yet have a leader, but it is expected to hold its first hearing in February.
Sigh . . .
You can read more about the McCarthy rules package at The New York Times: New House Rules Make It Easier to Dump Speaker, and Harder to Spend or Raise Taxes.
According to Andrew Solender at Axios, there’s another secret addendum to the rules package: House Republicans in the dark on McCarthy’s shadow document.
A private document that only some House Republicans have seen and others refuse to talk about could play an outsized role in the governance of the chamber over the next two years.
Why it matters: The document contains concessions — not included in the rules package passed on Monday night — that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) made to rebellious Freedom Caucus members to secure the speaker’s gavel.
— Those members have threatened to kill McCarthy’s speakership as swiftly as they acquiesced to it if he reneges on their handshake agreements.
Driving the news: The existence of a “secret three-page addendum” containing “the most controversial concessions” that McCarthy made in order to get elected was first reported by Punchbowl News on Monday and confirmed to Axios by multiple GOP aides and members.
— One of those concessions is three seats set aside for conservatives on the Rules Committee, as well as representation for them on the powerful Appropriations Committee.
— Other McCarthy giveaways include votes on congressional term limits and a select committee on the weaponization of the federal government, a debt limit strategy and a more open amendment process on appropriations bills.
— One thing the document doesn’t contain, according to NRCC Chair Richard Hudson (R-N.C.), who said he’s seen it, is promised committee chairmanships for specific members: “No names, just representation [on panels].”
Read the rest at Axios.
Ben Werschkul at Yahoo Business on the IRS defunding bill: Here’s why the House GOP made defunding the IRS its first priority.
The House GOP’s first policy bill out of the gate didn’t address inflation or gas prices or immigration, but instead went after the Internal Revenue Service.
Dark Clown, by BERTOLINO Florent
The bill was passed Monday evening on a straight party line vote of 221 to 210 to reverse much of the $80 billion in extra funding set aside for the agency by 2022’s Inflation Reduction Act. need of reform.” [….]
The claim from countless Republicans, from Speaker McCarthy on down, is that the influx of money will lead to a flood of 87,000 new IRS agents who will then turn and harass everyday Americans. Some critics of the agency go even further and claim these new agents will be armed.
But fact-checkers have repeatedly debunked the claims, and the agency itself pushed back in a Yahoo Finance op-ed from then-IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig in August.
The viral claims are “absolutely false,” Rettig wrote at the time, adding his agency “is often perceived as an easy target for mischaracterizations,” but he promised the new money will not lead to increased audit scrutiny on households making under $400,000.
The plan is instead for much of the money to go toward wealthy tax cheats. IRS estimates of the so-called “tax gap” — the difference between what taxes are owed to the government and what is actually paid — is hundreds of billions of dollars a year.
Much of the $80 billion will be focused on taking a bite out of the gap, focusing on wealthy tax payers. The investment is projected to pay for itself and then bring in over $100 billion in increased tax revenue over the coming decade.
By contrast, a new analysis from the Congressional Budget Office released Monday afternoon found that the net effect of the House GOP bill’s to defund the agency would increase the deficit by more than $114.3 billion over the coming decade if enacted.
Fortunately, this bill will most likely die in the Senate, and if it somehow gets to Biden’s desk, he will veto it.
In other news, Republicans are gleeful, because a small number of classified documents were found while lawyers were cleaning out an office used by Joe Biden before he became president. The lawyers immediately contacted the National Archives and turned over the documents, and the DOJ is now looking into what happened. There’s no comparison between this and Donald Trump’s stealing of hundreds of classified documents and refusing to return them, but Republicans will have a field day anyway. One hopes the press will recognize the differences.
Philip Bump at The Washington Post: The Trump and Biden classified-document revelations are not the same.
After serving as Barack Obama’s vice president for eight years, Joe Biden did what high-profile former politicians so often do: He set up a think tank at a prominent university.
Biden’s was called the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement, headquartered at the University of Pennsylvania. But unlike other elected officials and other such institutions, Biden’s engagement with the Penn Biden Center was soon back-burnered. By April 2019, he was a candidate for the presidency.
In November, almost exactly two years after Biden’s election, attorneys for the president were emptying an office at the center when, according to their account, they discovered about 10 documents bearing classification markings. The next day, the documents were turned over to the National Archives. The Justice Department is now reviewing them.
In its most concise distillation — documents with classification markings found in president’s office — the scenario seems like a mirror of the controversy that swirled around Donald Trump for much of last year, including the FBI search of his Mar-a-Lago property. Trump and his allies have, predictably, tried to draw this comparison, looping in funding that Penn (broadly; not the Biden center) has received from China.
355 days with this clown, by Ylli Haru
“When is the FBI going to raid the many homes of Joe Biden, perhaps even the White House?” Trump fumed on the social media platform he owns. “These documents were definitely not declassified.”
But, just as the fundamental issue with the Trump documents is not whether they were classified, the situations with the two presidents are not obviously comparable in the way that Trump suggests.
At this point, we don’t know much about the Biden documents beyond what his team has made public, which is certainly an important caveat. According to the Biden team’s statement, the documents were found in a locked closet and quickly turned over to the government. What they contain is unclear, as is their current classification level or status. (There are, of course, numerous existing documents that are no longer classified but which may nonetheless still carry classification markings.) One person, tongue presumably in cheek, told CBS News that the documents did not contain nuclear secrets.
Obvious differences are that Biden didn’t take the documents deliberately and his attorney turned them over to the National Archives as soon as they discovered them. Read the rest at the WaPo.
Meanwhile, the DOJ is still attempting to get Trump to return any documents that he still possesses. Hugo Lowell at The Guardian: DoJ seeks to question Trump team that found more classified documents.
The US justice department is intensifying its investigation of Donald Trump’s unauthorized retention of national security materials as it prepares to question the people who searched the former president’s properties at the end of last year and found more documents with classified markings.
The department was given a general explanation from Trump’s lawyers at the time about who conducted the search – a company said to be known to Trump with experience handling classified records cases – when the new documents marked as classified were returned to the government around Thanksgiving last year.
But the department, unsatisfied with that accounting, last week convinced a federal judge in a sealed hearing to force Trump’s lawyers to give the names of the people who retrieved the documents with an intent to question them directly, according to sources familiar with the matter.
The move by prosecutors to ask a federal judge to compel the information marks the latest escalating twist in the criminal investigation into Trump’s potential unauthorized retention of highly sensitive government documents as well as obstruction of justice.
The pattern of prosecutors now seeking judicial intervention at every turn signals an aggressive posture from the special counsel Jack Smith, who is overseeing the investigation after being appointed to insulate the department from accusations of political conflicts with Trump, who is now a 2024 presidential candidate.
The justice department told Trump’s legal team in October that it suspected the former president was still in possession of additional documents with classified markings even after the FBI seized hundreds of sensitive materials when agents searched his Mar-a-Lago property on 8 August.
After initially resisting suggestions to retain an outside firm to search his properties for any classified documents, Trump retained people to search his other properties including Trump Tower in New York, Trump Bedminster golf club in New Jersey, Mar-a-Lago, and a storage unit in Florida.
The search, carried out by a company described as being a known entity to the former president, turned up at the storage unit at least two more documents with classified markings that Trump’s lawyers then hurriedly turned over to prosecutors on the documents case.
That’s it for me today. What else is happening? What stories are you following?