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The Early 202

An essential morning newsletter briefing for leaders in the nation’s capital.

Top Democrat on weaponization subcommittee blasts her GOP counterpart

The Early 202

An essential morning newsletter briefing for leaders in the nation’s capital.

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In today’s edition … What we’re watching: Biden meets with Ireland’s prime minister … Why Education Secretary Miguel Cardona spoke out in Florida … After SVB, a circular blame game … Prosecutors look at Trump-commissioned report, Josh Dawsey reports … but first …

On the Hill

Top Democrat on weaponization committee says Jim Jordan is ‘not an honest broker’

Five questions for … Stacey Plaskett: We spoke with Plaskett, the Virgin Islands’ nonvoting delegate to Congress, about her work as the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee’s new select subcommittee investigating the “weaponization” of the federal government. Republicans created the panel to investigate their claims that the FBI and other government agencies are biased against conservatives.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

The Early: You told MSNBC’s Ali Velshi on Sunday that you’ve come to believe the committee is “a political stunt.” When did you come to that realization and what convinced you?

Plaskett: [After being] named ranking member, we reached out on more than one occasion to [Chairman] Jim Jordan to talk with him about having weekly meetings [and] to try and negotiate between ourselves and our staff areas that we could both look at. He came to my office. He listened to me politely and said he would have to talk with the other members and he would get back with me. He didn’t do that. 

I sent a follow-up letter saying, ‘Look, these are areas I'm interested in. There may be one or two of those that I think that we can work on together, or others that we could work on together that you might suggest.’ No response to that, either. 

[Ed.: “We have engaged with Democrats and Delegate Plaskett, followed committee rules and invited Democrats to every transcribed interview and hearing with ample notice,” Russell Dye, a Jordan spokesman, said in a statement to The Early in response to Plaskett’s remark. “Sadly, Democrats have abandoned all trust by leaking transcripts and subpoenas, slandering and attacking journalists testifying about government abuse, and defaming brave whistleblowers who have come forward to tell their stories about DOJ and FBI abuses.”] 

The Early: What were the areas where you thought you might be able to work together?

Plaskett: There [were] news reports about the indictment of an FBI special agent who they believe was colluding with the Russian government. I thought, ‘That’s definitely something that we could work on together.’ Another was reporting that the IRS disproportionately audits working-class people, working families, in particular African American families, in comparison to wealthier Americans.

I also suggested that we look at the attempted weaponization of the Department of Justice by Bill Barr when he was attorney general. I didn't think he would have liked that one as much. But the first two I thought would be areas we could agree on.

The Early: Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), the chairman of the new China competition select committee, and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), the committee’s top Democrat, have said they have a good working relationship. What’s your relationship like with Jordan?

Plaskett: I had a great relationship with [former Rep.] Jason Chaffetz [(R-Utah)] when he was the chair of the Oversight [Committee]. [Former Oversight Committee Chairman] Trey Gowdy [(R-S.C.)] and I were actually friends — had dinner with each other. I always saw [Jordan] as an aggressive, very bullish member of Congress, and I don’t have any problems with that. That is his personal style. That’s who he is. I've always felt that as a lawyer trained in a courtroom, I can have an argument with you and still be respectful.

But the manner in which Jim Jordan has conducted himself in the hearings thus far is a cavalier manner in which he dismisses other members of Congress’s arguments. I do not agree with members mocking loudly each other, laughing at each other, making degrading comments during the hearing. And Jim Jordan, whether he’s indifferent to it or revels in it, I can’t determine as yet. But because he has also done things such as presenting information about what he calls whistleblowers — who do not fit the term of whistleblowers — to reporters lets me know that he’s not an honest broker. I'm going to always have to be prepared for the worst, unfortunately.

The Early: Conservatives have criticized you for calling Matt Taibbi and Michael Shellenberger “so-called journalists” in last week’s hearing and describing them as “witnesses who pose a direct threat to people who oppose them.” Do you believe they’re legitimate journalists?

Plaskett: Well, I do believe that they have in the past engaged in legitimate journalism.

I also believe that there’s conduct that journalists are supposed to have that they have not exhibited, particularly when it comes to “the Twitter Files.” The fact that Taibbi and Shellenberger from their own admission have said that they have hundreds of thousands of emails, and yet they have selected 330-some-odd emails to share with the general public regarding the Twitter Files leaves one the question: [Are these] truly fair and impartial journalists who [are] following the truth and allowing it to lead them wherever it may?

The Early: Russ Vought, Donald Trump’s former Office of Management and Budget director, accused you of “leaking to the regime press to intimidate whistleblowers” in response to a report in which you detailed three of the committee’s interviews with witnesses. Democrats “must be kicked out of these interviews,” Vought tweeted. Have Republicans made any moves to kick you out?

Plaskett: No, they have not. And again, these are not whistleblowers. Are these individuals who have left the FBI with grievances? Yes. But they do not fit the definition of whistleblowers. There is no credible evidence that they have given firsthand, factual information [in their] testimony [or] under questioning. And in fact, one of them, his lawyer begged us not to ask any more questions because the amount of conspiracy stuff that was coming out of his client was just absolutely egregious.

What we're watching

Biden is in full Irish American mode today.

He’ll meet with Leo Varadkar, the Irish prime minister, this morning at the White House. They’re expected to discuss Ukraine and the Windsor framework, the proposed new trade deal between Britain and the European Union meant to keep trade flowing between Ireland and Northern Ireland now that Britain is out of the bloc.

Then, Biden’s off to Capitol Hill for the Friends of Ireland Caucus St. Patrick’s Day luncheon — then back to the White House for reception with Varadkar. We’ll be watching to see if Biden quotes W.B. Yeats or Seamus Heaney or references his family’s roots in County Louth.

In the agencies

Why Cardona spoke out in Florida

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona had an op-ed in the Tampa Bay Times on Thursday lambasting “politicians trying to prevent students from learning about the history, arts and culture, contributions and experiences of African Americans” — but he says the missive wasn’t directed at Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) in particular.

DeSantis, a Republican who’s laying the groundwork to run for president next year, bashed the College Board’s new Advanced Placement course in African American studies in January, calling it “woke” indoctrination.

In an interview Thursday, though, Cardona said efforts to ban books and restrict the teaching of Black history are “a national trend.”

  • “In a lot of places, it's almost like there's a competition to see which state can do the most overreach, the most censorship,” Cardona said. “So it's not targeted to one person — it's targeted to this trend that we're seeing across the country.”

Cardona chose to run the piece in Tampa because of the outcry he’s heard from Floridians over the state’s policies, he said.

One Florida teacher sent him a letter “telling me that she had to spend a Saturday going through her classroom library and putting the book titles on a website so the big state government could tell them whether or not those books should be in the school,” Cardona said. “It's getting ridiculous.”

After SVB, a circular blame game

Not it! After the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank, there is new scrutiny on the panoply of regulators in the nation’s complex banking system: the Federal Reserve, its regional bank in San Francisco, the state of California and lawmakers on Capitol Hill, our colleagues Tony Romm and Jonathan O’Connell report.

Tony and Jonathan add: “Financial experts, lawmakers and former government officials have expressed alarm about the potential lack of rigorous oversight. Some have pointed the finger at the Fed, the nation’s supervisory central bank, arguing it should have scrutinized the books of Silicon Valley Bank, which grew at a meteoric pace during the pandemic as the tech industry boomed. And others have raised concerns that past pushes for deregulation — enacted under President Donald Trump — had resulted in laws and political conditions ripe for neglect.”

  • On Thursday, Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen told lawmakers that more examination is needed: “I think we need to look into the regulators — to exactly what happened to create the problems that these two banks that failed faced — and make sure that our regulatory system in supervision is appropriately geared so that banks manage their risks.”
  • The Fed has announced an internal investigation led by Michael S. Barr, the board’s vice chair of supervision, which aims to determine what it may have missed by May 1. California has opened its own probe into the issue.

“But some financial watchdogs have demanded a more independent investigation, arguing that the Fed’s failures were so significant that an internal review won’t suffice.” 

  • “And lawmakers from both parties in the House and Senate have signaled Congress could follow suit: Late Thursday, a bipartisan group led by Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) demanded answers from the Fed, noting it is ‘gravely concerning’ the bank missed key warning signs that private investors had identified before the collapse.”

Prosecutors look at Trump-commissioned report

Prosecutors investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol have obtained a Berkeley Research Group report commissioned by President Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign “that undercut many of his most explosive claims” about election fraud, our colleague Josh Dawsey writes. The research, which cost $600,000, was not made public.

  • “The Justice Department has sought and obtained multiple reports, emails and interviews from witnesses that show campaign officials analyzing, and often discrediting, claims that Trump was making publicly,” Josh writes, citing people involved in the investigation who spoke on the condition of anonymity to disclose internal details. “The Berkeley report was provided to the Justice Department earlier this month, one of the people said, after some people involved in its crafting received a subpoena.
  • “Another person who has received a subpoena said prosecutors have asked for all evidence that would disprove, or substantiate, fraud claims. This person said the questioning from the department was focused on exactly what Trump — and others around him — were told about the election not being stolen, and when, in the days leading up to the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol.”

The Media

Weekend (must) reads

From The Post:

From across the web:


Congratulations to Princeton fans — and condolences to everyone whose bracket has already been upended (including President Biden):

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