House Republicans were sent into the purgatory of the minority after their midterm drubbing. But they are still pressing ahead with longstanding probes into the FBI and DOJ — even though they lack much power to do anything about it.
Barely three weeks into the minority, a band of Trump loyalists says they want to revive the remnants of an investigation that formally concluded last year, which they believe shows that federal law enforcement officials weaponized their biases against President Donald Trump in 2016 while he was a candidate for president.
Story Continued Below
Yet the group, led by Reps. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), won’t have a single tool at their disposal to compel testimony or demand documents, and not nearly enough manpower to keep up with the work.
“We’ve got to keep digging for the truth no matter what,” Jordan said, confirming that he is working with a handful of Republicans to continue the work of a joint effort with the Judiciary Committee that former chairmen Trey Gowdy and Bob Goodlatte pursued last year.
The Republican probes are pressing ahead as newly-empowered Democrats are beginning a wave of investigations into multiple aspects of the president and his administration.
Collins said he has already directed several of the Judiciary Committee’s GOP staff lawyers to keep their focus on what he believes to be illegal surveillance tactics by the FBI. Such an order will create a dual role for staffers: Republicans on the Judiciary Committee are also expected to be the president’s first line of defense as the panel’s Democrats possibly pursue impeachment and other issues related to special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation.
Jordan, who will be the top Republican on the Oversight Committee, said he, too, has tasked staff to stay the course on the GOP’s investigations into the FBI.
Despite those directives, the minority party on an investigative committee has painfully limited authority. Unlike their Democratic counterparts, they will not have the authority to set up hearings, compel the attendance of witnesses, or use subpoenas to get their hands on relevant documents.
Instead, Republicans will only be able to write letters, ask for briefings, and request documents—with exactly half the staff as their Democratic counterparts.
Still, Collins, Jordan and Nunes remain loyal to the cause and say they’ll work to dig up further evidence to support their case.
“There’s always been a group of us focused on this, because it’s so egregious what took place,” Jordan said, despite a determination by last year’s joint GOP effort that Mueller’s final report “must be trusted.”
Jordan has centered his efforts on top DOJ official Bruce Ohr and his wife, Nellie, who worked for the firm that compiled a controversial dossier of allegations about Trump’s connections to Russia. When Republicans controlled the Judiciary and Oversight committees, they were able to force testimony from Ohr and others, including former FBI Director James Comey. They won’t have that authority with Democrats in control, severely hobbling their ability to investigate.
“Nellie and Bruce Ohr are not coming in again,” said one Democratic aide who works closely with the Oversight Committee. “It’s going to be virtually impossible to get any active agency personnel to talk to them.”
The Republican staff on the committees will also be a fraction of the size of the majority’s staff — a restriction that comes with a much smaller budget, too. Democrats on the House Oversight Committee, for instance, once tapped the personal budget of then-Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to pay to transcribe hours of testimony from one of their hearings, the aide said.
“You’re effectively in the position where you’re fighting something with nothing,” said Kurt Bardella, who helped direct countless probes at the House Oversight Committee as a GOP aide. “It’s not like the FBI is going to be inclined to talk to them voluntarily.”
Collins rebuffed concerns about a lack of resources.
“This is not something you can just drop, especially with what we’re seeing come out,” he said, citing a recent New York Times report that the FBI opened a counterintelligence probe to find out whether Trump was secretly working on behalf of the Russians.
Democrats, of course, see the situation differently. They have suggested Congress should issue a subpoena for documents relating to Trump’s private meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin, citing the FBI’s alleged concerns about whether Trump was a Russian agent.
For example, the House Foreign Affairs Committee, in conjunction with the Intelligence Committee, has been deliberating over whether to issue a subpoena for notes and other documents that State Department interpreter Marina Gross kept while she was present for the private meeting between Trump and Putin in Helsinki last year. In fact, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the foreign affairs chairman, plans to revive a subcommittee for oversight and investigations.
House Republicans pursuing their own investigations do have one major asset: the president.
Democrats say they are preparing for the possibility that Jordan and Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), two of Trump’s closest allies on Capitol Hill, could leverage their relationship with the president to secure documents and other information, particularly from the Justice Department. Such actions would be out of bounds, Democrats say, because the Justice Department should be independent of the president.
“Typically in the minority, the administration is somewhat collaborative,” a senior Democratic aide said. But, the aide cautioned, “that wasn’t the case with us. Every request we made was basically ignored.”
Minority investigations aren’t unprecedented, though.
Last March, the Intelligence Committee, under GOP leadership, formally closed its Russia investigation and concluded that there was no collusion between Trump associates and Russian operatives. But Democrats, then in the minority, dismissed those findings and argued that the investigation was incomplete because the committee did not interview key witnesses. They vowed to continue investigating the matter using their limited procedural tools in the minority, but were unable to gain significant ground.
Democrats have indicated they don’t plan on helping Republicans with their own investigations.
“We are out of the business of investigating the investigators,” said a Democratic aide. “If we uncover indications that something is amiss during the course of our work, we will not ignore it. But so far, we have seen only unfounded accusations and character assassination directed at patriotic, dedicated public servants.”
Rachael Bade contributed reporting.