Friday, December 30, 2022

Holidaze Week: The Circus From Hell, or, Church's Chickens

Increasingly, the price for GOP Rep. Kevin McCarthy to become Speaker is to approve a two-year long, all GOP "Select Committee" to investigate everything they can think of, along with regular subpoenas, prime-time hearings, and a nearly unlimited mandate.

Conservatives say they want to model the panel off the 1970s Church Committee, which conducted a landmark investigation that uncovered significant surveillance abuses among the intelligence community and the IRS, leading to the formation of the Senate Intelligence Committee. But it’s a high bar that’s almost certain to fall short. While the Church Committee was a bipartisan operation, Democrats have frequently criticized the GOP’s targeting of the FBI, and their party is highly unlikely to help fuel probes they’ve already derided as political sideshows.

And Democrats are already gearing up to rebut GOP investigations next year. Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin, who will be on the frontlines as the top Democrat on the Oversight Committee, summed up how he views his party’s responsibilities as it deals with Republican probes: “a truth squad in the sense that we will have to debunk conspiracy theories.”

And a former senior aide to the Democratic senator who chaired the Church Committee has also criticized Republicans for trying to make the Church comparison specifically, accusing them of wanting to invoke “Church’s legacy not to push for real solutions … but to obtain impunity for themselves and punish their enemies.”

But underscoring how much the “Church” rhetoric has injected itself into the party’s thinking, McCarthy, during a recent Fox Business appearance, tipped his hand toward the idea, saying that “you’re almost going to have to have a Church-style investigation to reform the FBI.”

McCarthy, notably, didn’t specifically mention setting up a new committee, and those comments would also align with previously planned investigations. The ambiguous comments come as the Californian tries to lock down the votes to claim the speaker’s gavel in a thin majority and wants to avoid alienating any more members. A spokesperson for the GOP leader didn’t respond to multiple questions about whether McCarthy was endorsing starting a new panel, or just an investigation into the Justice Department and FBI, which is already in the works.

It’s hardly the first time he’s faced pressure from his right flank to acquiesce to going further on investigations.

House Republicans say they now expect to probe the treatment of individuals who were jailed for participating in the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, where a mob of then-President Donald Trump’s supporters breached the building as Congress was certifying Joe Biden’s win. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) previously pressed McCarthy on an investigation last month during a closed-door conference meeting.

Comer noted that there was an ongoing discussion about which panel “needs to take the lead on that,” adding that the Oversight Committee will have “a lot on the platter but we’ll do whatever we’re asked to do from leadership.”

McCarthy has also threatened to subpoena intelligence officials who signed a letter in 2020 warning that a New York Post story about Biden’s son Hunter might have its origins in a Russian disinformation operation. And conservatives also think they’ve moved McCarthy on impeaching Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. He hasn’t officially backed the step, but opened the door initially in April and then signaled an impeachment could be on the table, depending on the results of investigations, during a trip to the southern border in November.

Asked about the California Republican’s remarks, Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) — whom McCarthy opponents have used as a figurehead for the opposition — noted that McCarthy’s latest border remarks came “after he knew that he was facing somebody who was going to possibly deny him being speaker.”

But conservatives’ vision for the new select committee could stretch far beyond just the FBI and Justice Department — two long-running targets of the party’s ire — by stepping into other jurisdictional lanes.

Roy pointed to three other entities that could fall under its purview, in addition to the FBI and Justice Department: Fauci and the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, the Department of Education and the IRS and money that will let the agency hire new staff. Those are all areas that other committees have indicated they plan to investigate. And while Roy acknowledged that potential overlap, he added, “You still want your best prosecutors prosecuting the case.”

Holidaze Week: A Taxing Explanation, Con't

As promised, as their last act before the new Congress is sworn in next week, the House Ways and Means Committee have made Donald Trump's tax returns public.

Six years of former President Donald Trump’s federal tax returns, long shrouded in secrecy, were released to the public on Friday by the House Ways and Means Committee, the culmination of a battle over their disclosure that went to the Supreme Court.

The returns – spanning the years 2015 through 2020 – were obtained by the Democratic-run committee only a few weeks ago after a protracted legal battle. The committee voted last week to release the tax returns, but their release was delayed to redact sensitive personal information like Social Security numbers.

CNN is currently reviewing the tax returns.

The release of the tax returns follows a years-long pursuit for documents that had typically been made public voluntarily by past US presidents. Trump and his legal team continuously sought to keep his returns secret, arguing that Congress had never wielded its legislative powers to demand a president’s tax returns, which Trump said could have far-reaching implications.

Trump released a campaign video Friday responding to the decision to release his tax returns, calling the move an “outrageous abuse of power” and “completely unconstitutional.”

“There is no legitimate legislative purpose for their action. And if you look at what they’ve done, it’s so sad for our country,” Trump said. “It’s nothing but another deranged political witch hunt which has been going on from the day I came down an escalator in Trump Tower.”

Other Republicans also criticized Democrats’ efforts in pursuit of the tax returns as political, with Texas Rep. Kevin Brady – the committee’s top conservative – saying a release would amount to “a dangerous new political weapon that reaches far beyond the former president and overturns decades of privacy protections for average Americans that have existed since the Watergate reform.”

The committee, which is responsible for overseeing the IRS and writing tax policy, requested the returns under the authority of section 6103 of the US tax code. Their report focused primarily on whether Trump’s tax returns during his time in office were properly audited under the IRS’ mandatory audit program for US presidents.

The committee found that the IRS opened only one “mandatory” audit during Trump’s term – for his 2016 tax return. And that didn’t take place until the fall of 2019, after Chairman Richard Neal, a Massachusetts Democrat, first sent a letter asking the IRS for Trump’s returns and tax information. The report characterizes the presidential audit program as “dormant.”

Trump hid his taxes, unlike every other single White House occupant since Nixon. He ordered the IRS not to audit him, which is against all regulations, created for this very reason.

We're about to find out why.  Hopefully the Senate Finance Committee will grab the baton and run with it.

We'll see.
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