Does the J6 Committee threaten our democracy?
The January 6 Select Committee is a very unusual committee. Several House rules have been discarded in the effort to ensure that the right narrative comes out of the Committee's work. This has included jettisoning any minority voices that may raise objections to irregular oversight activities, extralegal document requests, and seemingly lacking any legislative purpose for the Committee's existence. As a result, you'll find more diversity of thought on the typical university humanities faculty than on this Committee.
In keeping with the efforts by Secretary Mayorkas and the Department of Homeland Security to squelch any potential "misinformation" that may muddy the waters on administration policies, the January 6 Committee is as focused as a prosecutor on its target. In fact, that may not be too far off from how it sees itself. According to NBC News, "[t]he audience for the committee's six planned hearings over the coming weeks is not fellow lawmakers, and — despite the prime-time scheduling [and big-time news producer scripting the hearings] — it isn't really the general public," but instead, "the committee's work is most clearly aimed at the top brass at the Department of Justice who will decide whether to bring charges against Trump and members of his inner circle." Sounds more like a grand jury than a legislative oversight hearing.
The irregularities don't end there.
In an email exchange obtained by the Center to Advance Security in America (CASA), a nonpartisan FEC commissioner may have provided strategic advice to the Committee about using campaign finance law to advance its agenda. The email documents House Select Committee senior investigative counsel Amanda Wick asking FEC commissioner Ellen Weintraub to help in exploring a potential connection between campaign fundraising activities and the Jan. 6 Capitol rally.
Why might this be problematic? As the Committee itself has indicated at several points, a potential outcome could be to send a criminal referral to the FEC or DOJ for future enforcement actions. Speaking with an FEC commissioner raises serious impartiality concerns. If Commissioner Weintraub is helping the Committee develop theories that either the Committee or private parties will then use to refer people back to the FEC for enforcement, will Commissioner Weintraub be able to judge those complaints fairly and impartially? Will or should she recuse herself from such a matter?
Commissioner Weintraub's meeting also raises questions about whom she is representing and whom she is purporting to represent. The FEC is a six-member, bipartisan commission. It generally takes the bipartisan agreement of at least four commissioners to set policy for the agency. While it is not unusual for commissioners to give their personal views to congressional committees, it would potentially be inappropriate for a commissioner to purport to speak on behalf of the agency without authorization to do so.
Over the years, the FEC has had intense internal battles about who can speak to other governmental agencies, such as the DOJ, on behalf of the agency, particularly with respect to information flowing from the commission to other agencies. One of the animating forces is to prevent people, such as individual attorneys in the Office of the General Counsel, from purporting to speak on behalf of the agency or offer legal interpretations that have not been adopted by the commission. The internal detente in the agency has largely been that agency personnel need FEC authorization to have those sorts of conversations with the DOJ. It seems unlikely that Commissioner Weintraub obtained authorization from the FEC for this meeting, particularly since she failed to record this particular phone call on her official calendar.
Is the same tomfoolery going on at the Department of Justice? The Center to Advance Security in America is trying to find out. The DOJ is reportedly going to use transcripts of the secret depositions in other prosecutions — depositions at which witnesses had none of the constitutional protections they would have had in an ordinary criminal investigation. With more than 1,000 people interviewed so far, the potential misconduct and violation of constitutional rights could be massive.
With all these revelations coming out, the American public is right to wonder: what is the true purpose of the January 6 Select Committee, and how much damage could it do to our democracy?
Photo credit: YouTube screen grab.