Last week, the House Judiciary Committee demonstrated once again that the GOP does not know how to conduct effective oversight of the Executive Branch. The occasion was the appearance of Attorney General Merrick Garland before the Committee for an entire day, at the end of which nothing of value was revealed.
Oversight, along with the appropriations power and passing substantive legislation, is one of the three great responsibilities of the Legislative Branch. It is the power to employ congressional committees to question witnesses and gather evidence supposed to ensure that the president and all executive officers, departments, and agencies, are operating within the law and consistent with the intent embodied in legislation passed by the Congress.
It is, unfortunately, the one power possessed by the Congress that is the least understood and the most often squandered.
The Judiciary Committee hearing on September 20th was billed expressly as “Oversight of the Department of Justice,” but the Republican members demonstrated little interest in actual oversight of the massive Department, which includes the FBI, ATF, every United States Attorney in the country, and our government’s immigration and border control agencies. Instead, they took the opportunity to beat up on Garland over one matter – Hunter Biden.
To be sure, the failure of the Justice Department to seriously investigate or prosecute the “First Son” for what appear to have been numerous, and serious violations of federal law, is a matter deserving of oversight.
Additionally, the failure by this Administration to carry out the myriad powers of the Justice Department fairly and transparently, constitutes a political failure that is fair game for the GOP.
However, to bring the Attorney General of the United States before the one committee with substantive and authorizing jurisdiction over the department he heads, and ask him six ways to Sunday the same questions over and over, knowing in advance he would play the “ongoing investigation” card and not offer anything beyond generalities, is a massive, wasted opportunity.
High on the list of other issues bothering the American people and leaders of the Republican Party, is the ongoing crisis of illegal immigration at our southern border. Strangely, the obvious and abject failure by this Attorney General to enforce laws and regulations designed expressly to stop unlawful entry into the country, barely registered on the litany of concerns expressed by the majority Party at last week’s “oversight” hearing.
Similarly lost in the rush to berate Garland for failing to prosecute Hunter Biden, were other serious matters clearly within the ambit of the Department he heads. These include, for example:
- Whether there is evidence of fraud in the massive subsidies and favors being handed out by the Biden Administration for electric vehicles and solar energy paraphernalia?
- Misuse of the Department’s Antitrust Division prosecutorial powers, including actions in conjunction with the regulatory powers exercised by the Federal Trade Commission?
- Evidence that at least a portion of the billions of dollars in aid being shoveled to Ukraine is being corruptly siphoned into the pockets of cohorts of President Zelensky, in possible violation of U.S. laws?
- Actions by the ATF to unfairly target lawful firearms retailers, known in the industry as “FFLs” (Federal Firearms Licensees)
- Whether the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) wields undue influence with the Department’s Civil Rights Division, which is headed by a far Left Biden appointee?
- Whether the Department has been abusing the extensive surveillance powers granted it under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), and whether those powers should be curtailed?
- Whether, and if so to what degree, social media platforms and companies might be operating as monopolies or in restraint of trade?
- Is the Attorney General exercising appropriate, or any, supervision of the FBI?
The Republicans may rightly claim in their defense that there will be additional opportunities to conduct oversight of the Justice Department and its component agencies, and that other committees have a piece of the oversight pie and will exercise their powers. Both are true statements.
At the end of the day, however, last week’s hearing was a clear missed opportunity to showcase for the American people that the GOP leadership in the House is ready, willing, and able to effectively perform its vital oversight responsibility. Among the audience watching the show are next year’s voters.
Bob Barr represented Georgia’s Seventh District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He served as the United States Attorney in Atlanta from 1986 to 1990 and was an official with the CIA in the 1970s. He now practices law in Atlanta, Georgia and serves as head of Liberty Guard.