As the new House Republican majority begins the process of investigating a lengthy list of conspiracy theories, most of the probes and hearings will generate more heat than light. The theatrics will no doubt be great for fundraising appeals and conservative media outlets, but the ostensible “oversight” efforts will likely prove to be tiresome and inconsequential.
But there’s one dimension to the GOP’s crusade that warrants special attention. As we discussed two weeks ago, Republican lawmakers thought it’d be wise to create the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government, to be chaired by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan. The Ohioan apparently intends to prove that there’s been a secret campaign to silence and punish conservatives, and he and his allies will expose the nefarious plot and the federal officials behind it.
By and large, the panel's existence is more likely to generate eye-rolling than outrage, but part of the “weaponization” committee’s purview is scrutinizing “ongoing criminal investigations.” To that end, Jordan wrote to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland last week, demanding information about, among other things, the investigation into Donald Trump’s documents scandal.
As NBC News reported, officials at Main Justice didn’t seem especially impressed with the request.
The Justice Department told the new chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, that it “stands ready” to work with congressional investigators but warned it won’t share information about ongoing cases, according to a letter obtained by NBC News.
The Justice Department has a longstanding policy against divulging private information on ongoing investigations — and it’s not about to start making exceptions because some far-right members of Congress have some weird conspiracy theories.
“Consistent with longstanding policy and practice, any oversight requests must be weighed against the Department’s interests in protecting the integrity of its work,” Assistant Attorney General for Legislative Affairs Carlos Urierte explained in his written response. “Longstanding Department policy prevents us from confirming or denying the existence of pending investigations in response to congressional requests or providing non-public information about our investigations.”
The same letter went on to reference previous documents stating that “the policy of the Executive Branch throughout our Nation’s history has generally been to decline to provide committees of Congress with access to, or copies of, open law enforcement files except in extraordinary circumstances.”
It was a polite and professional way of the Justice Department telling the conspiratorial congressman to go pound sand, at least with regard to opening up the files of ongoing investigations.
Late Friday, Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee, in lieu of an official statement, published an awkwardly worded tweet that read, “Why’s DOJ scared to cooperate with our investigations?”
It was a difficult line to take seriously. For decades, the Justice Department has withheld non-public information about pending investigations, and for good reason: Confidentiality is important to protect the integrity of the process. It does not mean that federal law enforcement is “scared”; it means Jordan and his cohorts think they’re entitled to information that they can’t have.
But if we are going to have a meaningful conversation about those who've shown fear in response to requests for cooperation with investigations, perhaps it’s worth pausing to reflect on the new Judiciary Committee chairman himself. Was Jordan “scared to cooperate” with the Jan. 6 investigation — after repeatedly insisting he had “nothing to hide” — when he blew off requests for information and a congressional subpoena?