‘FBI has changed,’ witness said at first subcommittee hearing on the Weaponization of the Federal Government
Former Rep. Tulsi Gabbard accused Mitt Romney of using his influence as senator to ‘cancel’ her
The inaugural public hearing of the House Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government on Thursday featured testimony by Republican and Democratic lawmakers as well as by agency whistleblowers, who all raised concerns about potential abuses of power by federal agencies among others.
At the hearing, former Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard spoke about her reaction to being accused of “treasonous lies” in a tweet by Utah Sen. Mitt Romney last year, over claims she made about Ukraine.
Gabbard, who was invited by Republicans to testify, focused her remarks on cancel culture and threats to Americans’ First Amendment rights. She said she “challenged (Romney) to back this serious allegation up with evidence.”
Romney wasn’t immediately available to respond to her comments.
The subcommittee was created by the GOP House majority to ratchet up scrutiny and government oversight of federal agencies that they say have been politicized. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohioi, presided over the hearing as chair and delivered an opening statement listing examples given by over a dozen FBI whistleblowers who said they witnessed abuses of power at the bureau for political motives.
Beyond the FBI, Jordan referenced other agencies he wants to investigate, including the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security and the IRS.
Democrats, led by Ranking Member Del. Stacey Plaskett of the U.S. Virgin Islands, cautioned that while government oversight is necessary and helpful, the GOP formation of the subcommittee could end up enabling the very weaponization of government Republicans claim they want to eliminate.
“Millions of Americans already fear that weaponization is the right name for this special subcommittee — not because weaponization of the government is its target but because weaponization of the government is its purpose,” Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., said as one of the Democratic members who participated on a panel at the hearing.
The committee members heard from Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. The two criticized the Justice Department for stonewalling them over their inquires in recent years.
“During the course of my career, I’ve run countless investigations. In the past few years, I’ve never seen so much effort from the FBI, the partisan media and some of my Democratic colleagues to interfere with and undermine very legitimate congressional inquires,” Grassley said.
Johnson echoed his colleague’s concerns and focused his remarks on what he called the “corrupt Russian-Trump collusion” investigation, and the 51 former intelligence officials who signed a letter in 2020 saying the Hunter Biden laptop story bore “all the classic earmarks of a Russian information operation.”
A second panel of witnesses included two former FBI agents who both claimed the FBI has lost its way. “Americans have lost faith in the Federal Bureau of Investigation, an institution they once regarded as the world’s greatest law enforcement agency,” said Thomas Baker, who served in the FBI for over 30 years.
Baker said he believes a centralizing structural change at the bureau initiated by former Director Robert Mueller, “deliberately changed the culture of the FBI” from a “law enforcement agency to an intelligence driven agency.”
One focus of the hearing was the alleged political targeting of parents who raised concerns at school board meetings. In 2021, Attorney General Merrick Garland released a memo bringing attention to a “disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence” levied at school officials. Some Republicans raised concerns over what they believed to be the use of government authority to intimidate parents and others for expressing their political opinions.
Last October, Garland testified in Congress that his memo wasn’t meant to deter parents who wanted to express their opinions, but to raise awareness of “true threats of violence that are not protected by the First Amendment.”
Some Democratic members used their time to ask questions to read the anonymous comments received by school board members that included threats of violence and death. The minority party members repeatedly used the statements as evidence the Justice Department was justified in its concerns and actions.
The subcommittee is required to submit a final report to the full House on its findings by Jan. 2, 2025, the last day of the 118th Congress. Jordan also indicated the committee intends to propose legislation “that will help protect the American people.”