Government 'weaponization' subcommittee holds 1st hearing: 'I have never seen anything like this'
The House Judiciary panel has broad authority but conflicting views.
At the first public hearing by the House Judiciary subcommittee committee on the alleged "weaponization" of the federal government, Republicans on Thursday continued to make arguments criticizing federal agencies and “big tech” companies like Twitter while Democrats called the hearing an effort to “showcase conspiracy theories.”
Much of what Republicans said at the hearing -- which lasted more than three hours -- echoed familiar claims they have made on other panels since taking control of Congress, including Wednesday’s House Oversight hearing on Twitter’s handling of a story about Hunter Biden's purported laptop.
The list of witnesses on Thursday included two Republican senators, former Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (who recently left the Democratic Party), former FBI agents Thomas Baker and Nicole Parker and Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University Law School professor and Fox News contributor.
Before Thursday’s hearing, subcommittee member Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., had suggested billionaire businessman and Twitter CEO Elon Musk might be the first witness. However, that ended up being Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley.
The panel has a broad purview, including the ability to investigate how any part of the federal government collects and analyzes information on Americans, along with "ongoing criminal investigations" and civil liberties issues.
The subcommittee also gets access to highly classified information shared only with the House Intelligence Committee.
House Majority Leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana has compared its work to the so-called Church committee of the 1970s, in which Democratic Sen. Frank Church led an investigation of intelligence abuse by the executive branch.
"We're going to set up that Church committee to look at some of these federal agencies that are weaponizing government to go after families across this country based on their political views. That's not what the government should be doing," Scalise said last month.
The subcommittee's chairman, Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, maintained in his opening remarks that “dozens and dozens” of FBI agents had come to him and other Republicans “talking about what's going on, the political nature at the Justice Department.”
“I have never seen anything like this. Dozens and dozens of whistleblowers, FBI agents, coming to us,” Jordan claimed, adding, “Not Jim Jordan saying this, not Republicans, not conservatives -- good, brave FBI agents.”
In one heated exchange, however, New York Democratic Rep. Dan Goldman -- who served as an impeachment manager against then-President Donald Trump -- called out Jordan, contending that the chairman had not provided Democrats on the panel with information regarding any discussions with the alleged FBI agents.
U.S. Virgin Islands Del. Stacey Plaskett, the Democrats' ranking member, who also served as a Trump impeachment manager, said in her remarks that the subcommittee was “weaponizing Congress” and that Republicans were using their newfound power in the majority to “settle scores” and “showcase conspiracy theories.”
“I'm deeply concerned about the use of this select subcommittee as a place to settle scores, showcase conspiracy theories and advance an extreme agenda that risk undermining Americans' faith in our democracy,” Plaskett said.
Later in the hearing, Goldman ripped into Republicans’ witnesses -- including former FBI agent Baker -- pointing out similarities between Baker's opening statement and a book he previously published.
“Next time, make sure you give us a heads up and we can set up a table for you to have a book signing after this,” Goldman said.
ABC News' Libby Cathey and Benjamin Siegel contributed to this report.
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