The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Jordan’s weaponization-panel game plan draws critique from some on the right

But others say Jordan is taking on a huge task, and while there are conversations about tactics, he has lawmakers’ support

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) at a hearing at the Rayburn House Office Building on Feb. 9. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)
12 min

When Kevin McCarthy finally locked down the votes to become the 55th Speaker of the House, a key factor in that support was the promise of a marquee subcommittee armed with sprawling power to probe some of Republicans’ biggest targets in the federal government.

But two months into the Republican majority in the House, Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) is facing growing frustrations over how he’s conducted that panel’s business thus far.

Some leaders in hard-right intellectual circles have critiqued the initial work of the subcommittee on the weaponization of the federal government as lackluster and unfocused, and some Republican lawmakers have privately raised concerns. Critics say the committee has been too slow to staff up, insufficiently aggressive in issuing subpoenas for interviews and testimony, and lacking in substance.

Jordan and his allies have aggressively pushed back at the criticism, arguing he is taking on an unprecedented investigatory task that spans multiple government agencies.

“There is absolutely no question that Jim Jordan is one of the strongest Members of this generation when it comes to effective and aggressive oversight,” House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) said in a statement. “He is like an oversight head coach to so many members and I couldn’t be prouder to work with Jim Jordan every day.”

The frustrations reached critical mass ahead of a Thursday hearing — the subcommittee’s second — featuring testimony from people who were given access to Twitter’s internal communications that Republicans allege show the suppression of right-wing viewpoints on the platform.

“Here’s the issue: What independent investigation did Jim Jordan do in advance of [Thursday]? He took an adapted screenplay from journalists’ tweet thread,” said Mike Davis, the president of the Article III Project, a conservative judicial advocacy group. “Jordan should hand off the committee to a lawmaker who has the time to do it. This needs to be a big undertaking and they need a strategy and a dedicated, focused staff. They need to be dogs on a bone.”

In an interview with The Washington Post, Jordan defended the committee’s work and output.

“There have been more subpoenas, letters, interviews, and depositions than any other committee in Congress — and not that those are the measurement of success — but our staff is working their tails off,” Jordan said. “There’s always going to be people who criticize us … We’re just going to do our job. We’re going to get the facts on the table and then we’re going to propose legislation that we think would help remedy the situation.”

During Thursday’s hearing, Republicans cited the Federal Trade Commission’s probe into Twitter as the latest example of the weaponization of a government agency, pointing to an interim report issued by the subcommittee earlier this week that revealed demands by the FTC for Twitter to identify the journalists who were granted access to internal company records.

Criticism of Jordan’s handling of the subcommittee has been percolating on the right for several weeks. Russ Vought, the president of the pro-Trump think tank Center for Renewing America, on Twitter called for Jordan to kick Democrats out of interviews with witnesses. The Heritage Foundation called for beefing up the subcommittee’s $2 million budget to be on par with resources allocated to past major oversight endeavors.

The committee, according to some critics, should be a more direct reproduction of the Senate Church Committee formed by Democrats in 1975 to investigate civil liberties abuses by intelligence agencies. Some of that committee’s biggest accomplishments include the creation of the Senate’s permanent select committee on intelligence and passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, which established procedures around foreign intelligence collection.

Jordan dismissed comparisons to previous committees as misguided, calling the creation of the FISA court one of the biggest problems his subcommittee is examining.

He defended the subcommittee’s pace of issuing subpoenas. His team has issued nearly a dozen subpoenas, conducted four transcribed interviews, sent 97 requests to current and former officials, and collected 88,720 documents, according to an internal document reviewed by The Post. Jordan has 13 transcribed interviews and depositions scheduled in the coming weeks and is pursuing 88 government witnesses, and nearly 150 potential nongovernment witnesses.

Jordan also pointed to an interim staff report released earlier this week onnew, nonpublic information” that alleges to reveal “how the federal government weaponized its authority against Twitter in the wake of Elon Musk’s acquisition of the company,” according to the report.

Mark Paoletta, a prominent conservative attorney who served as a chief oversight counsel for the House Energy and Commerce committee for 10 years, derided critiques from “armchair quarterbacks” with little investigative experience and commended Jordan and his team of top advisers.

“These big investigations take time and we need to make sure we move as aggressively as possible but also as responsibly as possible,” said Paoletta. “If people want to see this stuff exposed it does not help to criticize somebody 34 days into their tenure.”

Over the weekend, the House Judiciary Committee, under which the subcommittee sits, issued a new series of subpoenas related to the House GOP’s probe into a Justice Department memo that directed the FBI to address threats at school board meetings. The former director of the Department of Homeland Security’s now-defunct Disinformation Governance Board, Nina Jankowicz, was also subpoenaed.

But the calls for Jordan to produce substantive misdeeds in federal agencies that Republicans have alleged exist are incongruent with the majority’s findings thus far — which includes testimony from witnesses pushed by some of the outside groups now critiquing Jordan and the subcommittee. A 316-page report compiled by Democrats and released last week showed that the people interviewed by panel investigators “not only failed to provide any evidence of wrongdoing but are also entirely lacking in credibility.”

“There is a feeling right now that this will simply be a Fox News clip generator — this really needs to be a comprehensive, well-resourced examination of the security state,” said a person familiar with the committee’s operations who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly. “It can’t be a way for members to get three- to five-minute hits on the Sean Hannity show. If they want this to be real, it has to be done right.”

Stephen Miller, the head of America First Legal and an adviser to President Donald Trump, defended Jordan’s leadership and described his approach to the subcommittee’s hearings so far as setting a “profoundly important foundation” for the country to understand the issue set.

“There is a conversation happening about method and tactics but there’s absolute agreement on the strategy for being unrelenting and if necessary, brutal in pursuit of their mission,” Miller, whose group works closely with Congress on oversight issues, said of some of the criticisms Jordan is facing. “He is the only one who could pull off such an Everestian task.”

The report released by Democrats — and the lack of a robust GOP response — has been viewed by some as yet another datapoint of the plodding start. Jordan told The Post that the GOP staff on the Judiciary Committee has so far increased from 20 staffers to more than 50 and that hiring will continue.

But the Ohio lawmaker also said that no staffer is singularly devoted to the weaponization subcommittee full-time. For comparison, Democrats had a staff of roughly 75 people at the height of the Judiciary Committee’s work during the previous Democratic majority, and the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol had roughly 65 full-time, direct hires, plus another 35 contractors, according to the spokesperson for the committee.

“All of them work for the subcommittee and Judiciary [Committee] — so all of them work for everyone; that’s the model we’ve always used,” said Jordan. “The select committee will require a lot of work so we will keep ramping up.”

Jordan’s success largely rests on whether his investigators can identify credible whistleblowers with firsthand knowledge of bias in the federal government against conservatives — a seemingly Sisyphean task in the eyes of Democrats on the subcommittee who have accused Jordan of trafficking in false narratives.

“Jordan is failing on both fronts — it’s not like House Republicans don’t have a substantive agenda,” said a congressional investigator, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly. “He’s not delivering on the substance but he is also not delivering on this vast labyrinth of conspiracy theories. He’s set himself up for an impossible task to prove things that are just not true.”

Jordan, however, maintained that the three witnesses whose interviews and statements were laid out in the Democrats’ report might still appear in future hearings, despite the findings.

“We have a whole other list of whistleblowers but because there’s so much retaliation you have to work with them — if they want to work with a transcribed interview or if they want to testify,” Jordan said.

Stephen Friend, who resigned from the FBI after being placed on leave and is now a senior fellow at the Center for Renewing America, claimed in his interview with the subcommittee that the “FBI departed from its internal operations manual” in managing hundreds of cases after the Jan. 6 attack. He also objected to the use of a SWAT team in the Aug. 24, 2022, arrest of certain Jan. 6 targets who were members of the Three Percenters, a right-wing, anti-government group.

The Justice Department Inspector General and the Office of Special Counsel both rejected the former claim, according to the report from the Democrats. And Friend provided “no evidence to suggest that the FBI’s decision to use the SWAT team was anything more than a precaution to protect FBI personnel and other law enforcement officers.”

Friend also testified that he received $5,000 in financial support from Trump loyalist Kash Patel. Committee Democrats concluded that Friend “has a monetary incentive to continue pursuing his claims,” as he has used the spike in media attention over his allegations to promote a fundraiser and his forthcoming book.

Two other witnesses who have appeared for interviews with the subcommittee — George Hill, an FBI supervisory intelligence analyst who retired from the Boston Field Office, and Garret O’Boyle, a suspended FBI special agent from the Wichita Resident Agency in Kansas — similarly failed to provide evidence of misconduct by the FBI and the Justice Department, according to the Democrats’ report.

Russell Dye, a spokesperson for Jordan, called the report released by Democrats “beyond disappointing, but sadly not surprising that Democrats would leak cherry-picked excerpts of testimony to attack the brave whistleblowers who risked their careers to speak out on abuses at the Justice Department and FBI.”

The absence of compelling evidence has not precluded GOP lawmakers from amplifying calls to overhaul — or entirely abolish — federal law enforcement agencies. During an appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference last week, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who sits on the weaponization subcommittee, called for the abolishment of the FBI, the Department of Justice and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, “if they do not come to heel.”

Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.) and Gaetz met with Jordan last week, during which they expressed their concerns about the subcommittee’s investigative efforts, including issues with the structure and size of the staff.

Still, both lawmakers in statements said they support Jordan’s leadership.

“Chairman Jordan is the most consultative chairman in the House. I meet with him multiple times per week to discuss strategy,” Bishop said.

Gaetz said last week’s meeting with Bishop and Jordan was “constructive."

“Last week we did meet with Chairman Jordan, and the meeting was constructive," Gaetz said in a statement. "It was a meeting for Rep. Bishop and I to take our taskings regarding the Weaponization Subcommittee. We have total confidence in Chairman Jordan.”

Jordan said that in addition to proposing legislation to address the subcommittee’s findings, lawmakers will rely heavily on Congress’s appropriations authority to ensure “we can stop this attack on the American people.”

In a resolution that has been circulating this week, Jordan asked for $2 million in additional funding per year for the Judiciary Committee to build out the subcommittee, with an additional $15 million reserve that can technically be utilized by other parts of the Judiciary Committee, according to people familiar with the resolution.

The additional resources could prove to be helpful in attracting higher caliber lawyers, as people familiar with the matter told The Post that the committee has struggled to attract high quality staff and is lacking in staff with an expertise in national security. Jordan rejected the charge to The Post and claimed that “tons of people” had applied to work for the committee.

“The reality is that there are a lot of people that don’t want to go and leave their jobs and work for this committee,” said a person close to the committee. “Unlike the Jan. 6 committee, a lot of folks don’t think this will be a career enhancement — they don’t think this will get them on the partner track for their firm. So you will have to pay a premium for talent to support this and the fact that resources aren’t being devoted to it to do it will make it harder.”