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House Republicans warming to Church-style committee to probe FBI from top to bottom

Jim Jordan, Kevin McCarthy among those backing idea that independent panel is best way to force change

Published: December 23, 2022 7:13pm

Updated: December 24, 2022 12:06am

Collusion with Big Tech on censorship. A bungled probe that left Olympic gymnasts at risk of sexual abuse. Inaccurate surveillance warrants. Politicization of sensitive probes, manipulation of crime statistics and snooping on Congress.

Amid mounting allegations against the FBI and Justice Department — often from whistleblowers within their own ranks — House Republicans are increasingly convinced a dramatic top-to-bottom review of America's most storied law enforcement agency is warranted.

In the last week, both House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy and incoming House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan have endorsed the idea of a searching investigation fashioned after the 1970s Church Committee in the Senate, which exposed FBI and CIA abuses a half century ago, or the 9/11 Commission, which exposed intelligence failures leading to America's most lethal terrorist attack.

The goal, they say, would be not only to expose failures and wrongdoing but also to impose reforms on the bureau.

"We've been looking at a Church-style committee to look at this," Jordan told Just the News in a wide-ranging interview Wednesday night.

A few days earlier, McCarthy likewise endorsed the idea, which has been gaining support from security experts like retired House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes and former FBI intelligence chief Kevin Brock.

"We've got to get to the very bottom, and I think just subpoenas are starting, but you're almost going to have to have a Church-style investigation to reform the FBI, the more that we are learning," McCarthy told Fox News' Maria Bartiromo on Monday.

There is precedent for such an endeavor. Most recently, Congress stood up the 9/11 commission under former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean, a Republican, and former Rep. Lee Hamilton, a Democrat.

Decades earlier, the Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities exposed widespread abuses by the CIA, FBI, National Security Agency and Internal Revenue Service under the leadership of then-Sen. Frank Church, D-Idaho.

McCarthy has even suggested privately and publicly some outsiders who could serve, including Nunes and former Texas congressman and Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, who helped expose FBI abuses in the now-discredited Russia collusion investigation.

"You've listened to John Ratcliffe, early on, talk about the different things that he was fearful of them doing," McCarthy said. "He is a former FBI, he is a former prosecutor, U.S. attorney, he's a former congressman, and he was DNI as well. So he is the key individual that will work with us in many avenues to help solve this problem and correct it once and for all."

In a series of interviews this month, Jordan as well as Sens. Chuck Grassley and Ron Johnson have identified a dozen areas of inquiry including:

  • Why did the FBI use a command center in San Francisco to suggest content on social platforms that should be censored, including the posts of U.S. citizens like an Indiana councilman identified in files released by Twitter?
  • Did the FBI pressure social media platforms to censor the Hunter Biden laptop story during the 2020 election, including by suggesting it was Russian disinformation? Elvis Chan, a key FBI agent in dealing with platforms, denies he asked anyone to censor that story. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg and Twitter owner Elon Musk have both alleged the bureau did pressure their platforms on the laptop.
  • Why did the DOJ use grand jury subpoenas to eavesdrop on the email and phone data of House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes' lead investigator in 2017 as the panel probed FBI misconduct and failures in the Russia collusion case?
  • Why did the DOJ and FBI treat parents protesting at school board meetings as domestic terrorists?
  • Were FBI personnel in the Washington field office motivated by politics in an effort to launch a probe of Donald Trump or quash a probe of Hunter Biden, as FBI whistleblowers have alleged?
  • Did the FBI violate the civil liberties of Jan. 6 defendants, as whistleblowing Agent Steve Friend alleges?
  • Did the bureau and DOJ manipulate case assignments in the field to create a false impression that domestic terrorism was a bigger problem than warranted?
  • Did the FBI or DOJ mislead the FISA court or other courts on search warrants, including during the Russia collusion case?
  • Why was the FBI so slow to pursue a criminal case against a doctor who was sexually abusing U.S. Olympic gymnasts?
  • Has the FBI has misused confidential human sources in politically sensitive cases, including the Jan. 6 riot, the kidnapping plot against Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Russia collusion case targeting the Trump campaign?

Jordan stepped up his investigation into social media censorship on Friday, demanding that FBI Director Christopher Wray turn over records of all communications and payments between the law enforcement agency and Twitter.

Jordan's office said the release of internal Twitter files by Musk had unmasked an "ongoing surveillance operation" that exceeded FBI investigative authorities and resulted in a "coordinated misinformation effort between the FBI and Twitter to suppress and censor free speech."

"We are investigating politicization and abuses at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as well as Big Tech's censorship of conservatives online," Jordan (R-Ohio) and Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) wrote Wray in an oversight letter. "Newly released information shows the FBI has coordinated extensively with Twitter to censor or otherwise affect content on Twitter's platform."

Meanwhile, the idea of a Church-style panel has been embraced by a growing number of prominent voices.

"Hear, hear!!" Musk tweeted in response to the suggestion from venture capitalist David Sacks, who said: "We need a new Church Commission to investigate why the FBI and Intelligence Community are engaged in social media censorship, including the suppression of the Hunter Biden story."

Kash Patel, one of the former House intelligence committee staffers who were spied on by DOJ. said a commission of respected voices can exert influence and force changes that a divided Congress cannot.

"Congress is probably going to have to form a special committee, because there is no one committee that can fix law enforcement, FBI, DOJ, intelligence community, CIA, and DOD," he said. "And in one way, shape, or form, most, if not all of them, had a hand in this.

"The Church commission comes to mind, I know a lot of people have talked about that from the '70s. But that's what it's going to take."

Brock, the FBI's first-ever assistant director for intelligence, said a Church-style committee can also restore trust among a public increasingly wary of the FBI.

"I think, frankly, it would be great for the FBI," Brock said. "They find themselves obviously in a very challenging situation, some of which they brought on themselves, others kind of imposed upon them." 

"But they find themselves in a place right now where well over the half the country believes they're working on behalf of one political party over another," Brock said during a wide-ranging interview with the John Solomon Reports podcast earlier this fall. "And that can't stand ... the agency can't survive if that persists."

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