The idea that Comer actually acts in a measured way is debatable, as Philip Bump writes. The oversight chairman has often offered broad theories of government and democratic malpractice, with little to back them up. “It’s almost all innuendo, a big bulletin board with lots of pictures but little interconnecting string,” as Bump puts it.
But McConnell’s typically careful choice of words is interesting: He seems to discourage Comer’s and the GOP’s investigations into the alleged “weaponization” of the government entering the territory favored by the more conspiratorial voices in the House.
And there’s more where that comes from.
The GOP’s attempt to dismiss the administration’s treatment of Republicans and Donald Trump as a massive conspiracy has sometimes led Republicans to scrutinize their peers—often subtly, of course.
On Tuesday, the day the Comer profile was published, some Senate Republicans urged caution regarding a letter from Comer and other GOP chairmen requesting investigative information from Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg, as Bragg’s decision on the whether or not seeking an indictment against Trump approached.
“Personally, I prefer to see them work on whatever agenda they ran and that got them the majority,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) told Axios.
The same outlet also quotes two other Senate Republicans offering similar messages.
“I think you should fail to get involved in the legal process,” said Sen. Thom Tillis (RN.C.).
Added Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) “You want to know a lot of facts before you go down that road.”
The concerns here are clear: This would be the federal government potentially intruding on local law enforcement’s decision-making process in real time — before any charges are even filed. It would also involve asking Bragg to provide details of an ongoing investigation, which is generally a no-no. Bragg has labeled it an attempt to intimidate him.
(In connection with this, House Republicans controversially authorized Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan’s new “armaments” subcommittee to investigate ongoing Justice Department investigations, which the Justice Department has understandably protested. )
Similar words of caution poured in in August, after many Republicans immediately jumped to cite the Justice Department’s search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence as evidence of this “weaponization.” They did this despite knowing almost nothing about the situation.
“The only way you can defeat the world’s greatest democracy is from the inside out, by turning American into American,” said Representative Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), a former FBI agent. “It is the duty of everyone to act in a manner befitting the office they hold and not to pass judgment on anything until you know all the facts.”
Former Representative John Katko (RN.Y.), then the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, said, “This is not something you should pass judgment on… It’s everyone’s duty to take a deep breath. to fetch.”
House Intelligence Committee member Representative Chris Stewart (R-Utah) even suggested at the time that such a search might be warranted if Trump retained information on highly sensitive special access programs. “Do you know how extraordinarily sensitive that is?” Stewart told Politico. The Washington Post later reported that such information had indeed been seized.
But perhaps the most interesting comment on this front came from Representative David Joyce (R-Ohio) last month. Ahead of the first “armament committee” hearing, the former prosecutor and leader of a more moderate faction of the House GOP appeared on CNN.
“If they really ‘arm’, show the facts. There’s been a lot of allegations, as you mentioned,’ Joyce said. “But I think it’s really important that if they do these hearings, they produce something at the end of the day to show tangible facts or pull that back so people can have confidence in their government.”
There is reason for caution. Polls show Americans are skeptical of the GOP’s “weaponization” push. In a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, those polled said by a margin of 56 percent to 36 percent that the GOP’s effort to investigate “claims that federal agencies are biased against conservatives” is more about scoring political points than a legitimate research. Crucially, this suggests skepticism about the framing rather than the need to scrutinize the actions.
These types of hearings have also quickly degenerated into a series of baseless accusations. Chief among these: the allegation that the FBI was directly involved in censoring a story about Hunter Biden late in the 2020 campaign. Republicans have often stated this as fact, despite it being undermined by both key witnesses and those testifying under oath as a journalist involved in the “Twitter Files”.
Republicans have also filled these committees with many of their more extreme members; the House Freedom Caucus is vastly overrepresented on both the Oversight Committee and the “Armaments” panel.
The risk, as we noted at the time, is that these members like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) to direct and define the investigations and turn them into base-serving exercises. What McConnell and others seem to be suggesting is that that may not be the most advisable course of action.