Rep. Jim Jordan is one of the most powerful members of Congress. He chairs both the House Judiciary Committee and its new subcommittee on the “Weaponization of the Federal Government.” House Republicans have declared that Jordan’s investigations are “modeled” after the “Church Committee,” the famed 1975-76 Select Committee on Intelligence Activities created after a series of scandals involving the CIA.
On Wednesday, a bipartisan group of 28 distinguished, former government officials who staffed the Church Committee wrote a letter describing how Jordan might be able to replicate that committee’s success, if that were his actual aim. Based on the subcommittee’s embarrassing first meeting on February 9, however, and Jordan’s statements and actions, it’s clear that he has no such intent. Indeed, the letter from those former Church Committee members elucidates the degree to which the Republican labeling campaign is a pathetic branding exercise.
On Wednesday, Jordan issued his latest slew of subpoenas, this set going to CEOs of five Big Tech companies from Alphabet to Microsoft. The new subpoenas reaffirmed that he’s on a wholly partisan crusade to prove his crackpot theories that the Biden administration and the FBI censored pro-Trump messages and trampled on the First Amendment rights of conservatives. This is nothing like what the Church Committee sought to achieve.
The Church Committee letter signers are quite remarkable in their backgrounds, breadth, and experience. They include former holders of a long list of important government positions.
The committee they staffed was one of the most effective investigative enterprises in Congressional history. It produced recommendations that turned into historic reforms in American law enforcement and intelligence systems. Those reforms included the creation, among other things, of a permanent Congressional intelligence oversight committee and FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
In contrast to the Church Committee’s productive foundation, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy got the Weaponization Subcommittee off on the wrong foot. While the Church Committee was launched with an 82-4 bipartisan Senate vote in January 1975, McCarthy proceeded on a purely partisan-line vote, with 221 Republicans voting to approve the committee and 211 Democrats voting against it as a partisan sham.
As the authors of the letter note, the subjects of the investigation were also bipartisan, spanning multiple past Democratic and Republican presidential administrations. The Church Committee “criticized certain intelligence activities as imprudent or improper under both Democratic and Republican presidents.” This already is not the case with the Jordan committee, which feels more like a Donald Trump protection racket.
The Church Committee’s bipartisan origins facilitated the cooperative two-party operation which was the gateway to its success. Its staffers’ letter lays out how its achievements were a function of collaborative leadership: “As chair, Frank Church worked closely … with fellow Democrats [and] with the panel’s Republicans.” As a result, Republicans and Democrats alike “strongly supported the Committee’s essential investigative mission.”
In the same vein, the Church committee “[m]ajority counsel routinely included minority counsel in witness interviews and … deposition[s].” In another sharp variance, Republicans have played their cards so close to the vest that last Thursday, at the subcommittee’s inaugural meeting, freshman Rep. Dan Goldman, a former prosecutor, was left to question Jordan on whether there were notes of interviews with “whistleblowers” whom Jordan said he intends to call. Jordan would not promise to share any such notes with his minority colleagues.
Critically, the Church Committee staffers note in their letter, “the Church Committee pledged not to interfere with active law enforcement matters or ongoing, lawful intelligence operations.” Jordan would make no such promise, telling CBS News that he could not preclude the possibility that a focus of the weaponization committee would be to investigate or short-circuit a “specific ongoing criminal investigation.” Jordan has said elsewhere he would be using his newfound powers to look into the ongoing classified documents investigations involving President Joe Biden and former President Trump.
The veterans of the Church committee describe another one of its crucial features: “All Committee members publicly committed to ensuring that … intelligence activities are conducted within America’s legal framework.” In any organization, that kind of shared central mission is a springboard to success. The Jordan committee already looks different. “On the Church Committee, there was broad agreement that these things ought to be looked at and, in the end, there was broad agreement on what we might do about them,” former Democratic Church Committee staffer Gregory F. Treverton told the New York Times. “In this case, there’s no broad agreement on what ought to be looked at.”
The signs that there was no such shared mission abounded at the weaponization subcommittee’s first meeting. As NBC reported, “The partisan hearing largely consisted of Democrats and Republicans asking friendly witnesses favorable questions that reinforced their views.”
For instance, the Republicans’ keynote witness, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, spent his time accusing Hillary Clinton of colluding with the Russians in her 2016 presidential election defeat at the hands of Donald Trump. Republican witness Tulsi Gabbard, once a Democratic Congresswoman and now a Fox News contributor, spent her time airing complaints about Clinton having criticized Gabbard during her 2020 run for president.
We’re not talking bipartisan national purpose here, folks. We’re talking grade B personal grievance politics.
Ranking minority subcommittee member Stacey Plaskett bluntly captured the contrast with the Church committee when she expressed concern that the subcommittee was being used as “a place to settle scores, showcase conspiracy theories and advance an extreme agenda that risks undermining Americans’ faith in our democracy.”
The Church veterans’ letter suggests that Jordan’s committee look into the reporting of actual weaponization of the Justice Department under former Attorney General William Barr and his special counsel, John Durham, who spent time and taxpayers’ money chasing invisible “conspirators” against Donald Trump in the FBI and Democratic party. Durham was effectively “laughed out of court” when both individuals whom he targeted for trial were acquitted last year.
Unfortunately, Jordan looking into actual “weaponization” by his own party is as likely as Donald Trump apologizing to Hillary Clinton for the Republican witnesses making such a big deal about her before the Weaponization subcommittee. The best we can hope for with Jordan and his crew is that the Democrats will continue tying them up with their own rope.
It’s useful when a distinguished group of seasoned veterans of the committee which today’s Republicans claim to be emulating present them with the true lens of history. Their letter shows how far Jordan and his party colleagues have strayed from the search for truth and, indeed, their lack of interest in finding it.
The Church Committee was Congress at its finest. The Jordan Committee is Congress at its lowest.