The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The House GOP investigations are a joke. But don’t count them out.

Rep. Jim Jordan. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)
4 min

Nearly half a year into GOP control of the House, anyone hoping for blockbuster revelations and horrifying Biden scandals has so far been disappointed. And when you watch the people in charge of their investigations do their thing for the cameras, it’s not hard to figure out why.

But any Democrat tempted to feel triumphant at the “Keystone Cops” quality of Republican “oversight” should remember two things. First, even a fool with subpoena power might uncover something meaningful. Second, Republicans have shown that with sufficient determination — something they certainly have — they can whip up a “scandal” out of almost nothing.

When they won control of the House in November, Republicans were positively giddy at the prospect of using Congress’s oversight power to reveal the full wickedness of President Biden and his administration. Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), who chairs the House Oversight Committee, wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal titled “Get Ready for Republican Oversight.”

The result has been underwhelming. Comer stocked his committee with extremists and nitwits — people who, like a tree falling in the forest, make no sound if they aren’t recording themselves for a Truth Social post. Bringing on the likes of Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.), Lauren Boebert (Colo.) and Paul A. Gosar (Ariz.) to do “investigations” doesn’t exactly signal the seriousness of the enterprise.

They started with their obsession with Hunter Biden, about whom they can’t hide their prurient fascination. “I don’t want this to be about the prostitute,” Comer said at an early news conference about the president’s son, after making sure everyone learned about a prostitute the younger Biden allegedly patronized. In a later hearing, they were particularly outraged that at one point in 2020 Twitter took down nude photos of the president’s son.

Comer’s modus operandi is to take some piece of circumstantial evidence that might suggest something suspicious, then declare confidently that it is proof of a terrible crime. He recently released a memo laying out business interests various members of the president’s family have in foreign countries, the point supposedly being that they constitute a global bribery scheme. Other Republican members of Congress regularly refer to the “Biden Crime Family.”

Yet when he’s asked if he has any evidence that the president was involved in his family members’ businesses, got money from them or took any official action that might have been corrupt, Comer’s response is that while he has no such evidence, he just knows it must be true. “We believe that there was a return on the investment,” he’ll say, or “We believe that the president has been involved in this from the very beginning, obviously.”

Most recently, Comer claimed to have “informants” who would blow the lid off Biden’s “influence peddling schemes,” but unfortunately, he can’t seem to keep track of where they are. Comer’s habit of making wild accusations without providing proof has gotten embarrassing enough that he was even chastised for it by Fox News host Steve Doocy.

Meanwhile, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who has convinced the GOP that the ability to gesticulate wildly while shouting makes you a genius, continues to sputter with his subcommittee on the weaponization of the federal government. Its latest hearing brought in FBI “whistleblowers” to allege that the bureau is unfriendly to conservatives; under questioning, two of them admitted they had received money from Kash Patel, a Trump loyalist whose greatest achievement is writing a children’s book about the noble Trump and his villainous enemies.

We’ve been through precisely this series of events before. When they took over control of the House in the 2010 elections, along with initiating a debt ceiling crisis (as they’re also doing right now), Republicans launched a series of investigations of the Obama administration, promising misdeeds that were “worse than Watergate.”

They couldn’t deliver. But they did accomplish one thing: In the seventh separate congressional investigation into the 2012 Benghazi attack, they discovered that Hillary Clinton had used a private server for work email. This mundane violation of email protocol was then spun up, with the enthusiastic assistance of the news media, into a world-altering scandal that helped put Donald Trump in the White House.

During every Democratic administration, the primary goal of GOP oversight — creating a stream of content for conservative media to keep the calliope of outrage in motion — is the same. Their secondary goal is also the same: to create for an inattentive public the impression of corruption simply by virtue of the fact that the investigations exist.

The Clinton email story shows that we can’t predict what will come from these investigations. Who knows, maybe Biden really is corrupt, and these intrepid detectives will unearth the truth. For now, the Republican effort is all sound and fury, signifying nothing. But you never know what they might stumble their way into achieving.