A White House board of intelligence experts made the case Monday for reauthorizing one of the intelligence community’s most controversial tools, arguing failure to do so could be “one of the worst intelligence failures of our time.”
Congress has until the end of the year to reauthorize Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), a process looking more in doubt amid growing lawmaker mistrust of the FBI as well as concern the practice unnecessarily sweeps up information on Americans.
“The Board strongly believes that Section 702 authorities are crucial to national security and do not threaten civil liberties, so long as the requisite culture, processes, and oversight are in place,” the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board (PIAB) wrote in its report.
“The cost of failure is real. If Congress fails to reauthorize Section 702, history may judge the lapse of Section 702 authorities as one of the worst intelligence failures of our time.”
Section 702 allows intelligence outfits to undertake warrantless surveillance of foreigners located outside of the U.S., but their communications with American citizens are often captured in the process. That creates a database officials can query that critics have likened to backdoor searches of U.S. citizens.
Much of the consternation around Section 702 has been focused on the FBI, the intel agency with the most domestic scope of work but also a history of improperly using the tool — a problem the bureau has acknowledged and done some work to address.
That issue surfaced anew when a FISA court opinion from April released earlier this month revealed 702 searches were improperly done on a U.S. senator, state lawmakers and a state court judge.
“The Board, however, found no evidence of willful misuse of these authorities by FBI for political purposes,” PIAB wrote in the report.
“To date, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has only identified three incidents of intentional misconduct from among millions of FBI queries of Section 702 information and FBI has addressed the incidents appropriately.”
However, many of the board's proposed reforms are directed at the FBI, including directing the attorney general to limit the bureau’s ability to conduct some 702 queries for non-national security-related crimes.
The board also recommends establishing a more rigorous preapproval process for those wishing to use 702 to search for information related to U.S. citizens.
In a call with reporters, however, officials stressed they would not back any plan that would require getting a warrant to use the 702 database for information concerning Americans, noting that it's been used to assess whether an American is the victim of a crime or the target of foreign intelligence services.
“One thing we do not recommend is a warrant for every U.S. person inquiry … That issue of U.S. personal inquiries, particularly by the FBI, has been a dominant issue in this discussion. We do not recommend that in part because obviously, when you're first assessing whether or not the U.S. person is the victim of cyberattack or an effort by a Chinese intelligence officer for recruitment, you have no probable cause to believe that that person is a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power,” a PIAB board member said.
“So there are legal limitations to getting a warrant each time, not to mention the burdensome nature.”
The FBI in a Monday statement said Section 702 should be “reauthorized in a manner that does not diminish its effectiveness,” a sentiment backed by the White House on Monday.
“We also agree with the Board’s recommendation that Section 702 should be reauthorized without new and operationally damaging restrictions on reviewing intelligence lawfully collected by the government and with measures that build on proven reforms to enhance compliance and oversight, among other improvements,” it said in a joint statement from national security adviser Jake Sullivan and principal deputy national security adviser Jon Finer.
A $1.17 million settlement with a former Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General employee who flagged issues with embattled Inspector General Joseph Cuffari is raising a fresh set of questions from Congress.
The settlement, signed earlier this month but revealed by the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) on Thursday, admits no wrongdoing by Cuffari's office but makes a substantial whistleblower reprisal payment to Jennifer Costello, the employee.
The Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) investigation into the matter surfaces a number of bizarre clashes between the two employees, including a beef over Costello’s refusal to print thousands of pages of documents she asserted Cuffari could read online to his initial plan to try and assign her to a division of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) dealing with countering weapons of mass destruction.
But lawmakers are also raising questions over whether Cuffari misled Congress about the need for a $1.4 million contract to investigate Costello and others.
The settlement received by Costello is the largest known settlement for an employee of an inspector general office and among the largest ever given to a federal employee.
A joint letter from top Democrats on the House Homeland Security Committee and House Oversight and Accountability Committee obtained by The Hill indicates lawmakers plan to probe the deal, as well as why Cuffari’s deputy was able to sign off on the agreement without alerting other officials.
A deposition in front of the board “raises serious concerns about your possibly retaliatory actions and lack of candor, improper use of taxpayer dollars, and lack of truthfulness in your communications with Congress,” Reps. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) write in the letter to Cuffari.
Costello in 2019 made disclosures about Cuffari to both Congress and the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE), which is now investigating Cuffari. He likewise complained to the organization about her.
Costello’s complaints included that Cuffari delayed a report on DHS’s struggle to track children and parents separated at the border under a Trump administration policy, according to records Costello supplied to the POGO.
Costello was dismissed in June 2020, but Cuffari told the MSPB his plan to assign her to the Office for Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction — despite her lack of relevant experience — was made before an investigation into her conduct.
“Your testimony appears to show that at least one of the allegations brought against Ms. Costello as a basis for her proposed removal was frivolous,” the lawmakers wrote.
“Specifically, the deposition transcript reveals that after you requested that Ms. Costello print thousands of pages of DHS OIG policies, she expressed concern to you that it was not a ‘valuable use of the staff resources or appropriated funds.’ You then decided that this suggestion was grounds for removal because she ‘was making a determination on whether or not [the printing] was appropriate.’”
The POGO report indicates Cuffari made other inaccurate claims to justify his firing of Costello, including that she ordered a criminal review of his travel shortly after taking the job — a review that was initiated by another employee.
Cuffari spent $1.4 million on a contract with law firm WilmerHale to investigate Costello and others, one that lawmakers contend “did not substantiate any illegal conduct.”
They say Cuffari also failed to disclose to Congress that other inspectors general he asked to probe the conduct of Costello declined to do so.
“Your omission of this important information raises questions about your intentions when you informed Congress that you conferred with other Inspectors General and whether or not you accurately reflected the events preceding your decision to hire WilmerHale,” they wrote.
The settlement with Costello was signed by his chief of staff, Kristen Fredricks, something Thompson and Raskin say should have prompted an alert to ethics officials, as federal regulations require that they be consulted when the conduct at issue involves the head of the agency.
“It is unclear whether you raised concerns regarding your subordinate’s approval of the $1.17 million settlement to resolve allegations pertaining to your misconduct. It is also unclear whether or not you sought an opinion from a DHS ethics officer,” they wrote.
“However, it is deeply troubling that the individual who approved the settlement is someone whom you directly oversee and promoted to the position of Chief of Staff. This decision raises a potentially serious and flagrant abuse of your position.”
Cuffari’s office did not respond to request for comment over the POGO report or the letter from Democrats.
An attorney for Costello said she was pleased with the result of the years-long battle.
“My client stood for what she believed was right. Time has revealed that she was indeed right. And now she has a balm for the sacrifice she made to preserve the integrity of the work of the faithful civil servants of DHS OIG,” Costello attorney Eden Brown Gaines said in a statement.
The matter adds to the growing complaints about Cuffari, who has earned the ire of lawmakers after failing to notify them that Secret Service text messages from Jan. 6 were lost in software migration.
He most recently came under fire for saying that he routinely deletes text messages from his own government phone — an action that appears to violate record retention laws.
Lawmakers are also reviewing reports he censored findings of domestic abuse and sexual harassment by DHS employees.
House Judiciary Republicans appeared split in their appetite for impeaching Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas Wednesday, with many largely refraining from discussions of booting him from office.
Democrats went into Wednesday's hearing expecting the unofficial kickoff of an impeachment inquiry into Mayorkas.
But they were met with a more muted GOP as the party grapples with where to focus their impeachment energy.
The hearing wasn’t entirely free of fireworks. Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) told Mayorkas that U.S fentanyl deaths were “your fault” while Rep. Ben Cline (R-Va.) told Mayorkas he should ‘be ashamed; moreso you should be held accountable.”
And Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-N.J.) repeated the once popular GOP refrain that he should resign or face removal, telling Mayorkas he’d reached the “inevitable conclusion” that the Homeland Security secretary should quit or “that leaves us with no other option. You should be impeached.”
Democrats previewed a point-by-point argument addressing GOP claims floated at different turns over Mayorkas’s two-and-a-half years on the job, and noted the drop in border crossings following the implementation of new Biden administration policies.
But most of the GOP seemed to carefully skirt the “I” word, a factor one GOP aide privately told The Hill was because “I think everyone has moved onto bigger fish.”
Rep. Jerold Nander (D-N.Y.), the top Democrat on the panel, rolled through a series of GOP arguments, including those surfaced in a recent report from the House Homeland Security Committee, which has vowed to turn over its investigative products for use by Judiciary should they advance an impeachment inquiry.
He asked Mayorkas to dismiss claims the border is open or that he lied to Congress during prior questioning with Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) about achieving operational control of the border, a standard requiring perfection.
“The Secure Fence Act, specifically the statute, defines operational control as not having one individual cross the border illegally. Under that statutory definition, no administration has achieved operational control,” Mayorkas said.
Nadler said Mayorkas was just one target of a GOP eager to impeach anyone, pointing to earlier comments from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) while calling their “outrage…entirely evidence free.”
“As she so eloquently put it, ‘Everyone loves dessert, and that's impeachment. Someone needs to be impeached.’ Like many of her colleagues, she seemed not to care who was impeached, so long as they could engage in the political exercise of impeaching somebody in the Biden administration. She singled out Secretary Mayorkas as ‘the lowest hanging fruit,’” he said.
And Rep. Veronica Escaobar (D-Texas), whose district is along the U.S.-Mexico border, accused Republicans of using Mayorkas as a scapegoat while refusing to enact legislation that would do anything to solve the problem.
“We know that the spectacle you're seeing on the other side is part of the Republicans ultimate distraction strategy, impeachment. They aren't just focused on impeaching you Mr. Secretary, despite the fact that apprehensions at the border are down by 70 percent,” she said.
“I encourage my colleagues who are seeking a true solution to join our effort to address our broken system. Anything short of that is a dereliction of Congress's responsibility and obligation,” she said, a nod to the GOP argument that Mayorkas has been derelict in his duty.
The GOP critiqued Mayorkas’s job performance, with Rep. Victoria Spartz (R-Ind.) asking him to rate how he’s done on the job on a scale of one to 10.
And Chair Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) accused the administration of offering too rosy a picture.
“We know that this administration repeatedly violates the law under the guise of instituting safe, orderly and humane policies. But nothing about the Biden administration's policy is safe, orderly, or humane,” he said.
“Only this administration and my Democratic colleagues would call it a success when monthly encounter numbers are near 150,000.”
Republicans in the hearing repeatedly griped about Mayorkas’s failure to answer specific questions on statistics or provide figures on the border.
The GOP had put Mayorkas on notice that they were hoping to get numbers – sending a letter on the afternoon ahead of the hearing with nine different areas where they were seeking data. That primarily covered how migrants seeking asylum were processed and deported since the start of the Biden administration.
“As I have stated before, data you wish to have we will provide to you as promptly as possible. What I don't want to do is misspeak when it comes to data,” Mayorkas told Jordan.
But Jordan said those promises are often not realized.
“I can appreciate that. But we have a history where we've asked questions before, in a hearing, you told us the same thing. You don't get it back to us. So we're trying to get as much as we can on the record, in a public hearing,” Jordan said.
“You say you're gonna get back with this, but the history has not been too good on your part.”
Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) also accused Mayorkas of dodging questions.
“I think you're the most dishonest witness that has ever appeared before the Judiciary Committee and I think I speak for a lot of my colleagues. This is such a frustrating exercise for us,” he said.
Mayorkas was one of the earliest impeachment targets of the GOP – Rep. Glenn Ivey (D-Mass.) jokingly asked if he's unpacked his office yet – but his appearance comes as Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has floated other targets for impeachment.
McCarthy in recent weeks has floated the potential impeachment of Attorney General Merrick Garland as well as President Biden.
Some Republicans have said Mayorkas should remain a focus, and the Republican Study Committee on Tuesday released a memo backing the action.
But McCarhy has gotten flack about pursuing impeachment, including from Buck shortly after his exchange with Mayorkas.
“This is impeachment theater,” Buck said, saying McCarthy was dangling impeachment as “a shiny object.”
“I don’t think it’s responsible for us to talk about impeachment. When you start raising the ‘I word’ it starts sending a message to the public and it sets expectations,” he added later.
A federal judge Tuesday blocked a new Biden administration rule that limited access to asylum, issuing a decision that will take effect in two weeks.
The ruling from a federal judge in California is a major loss for the Biden administration, which imposed new restrictions on asylum-seekers, including that they must first seek the protections if offered in another country along their route to the U.S.
The rule, finalized in May, also limits the ability to seek asylum between ports of entry.
In blocking the rule, U.S. District Court Judge Jon Tigar repeatedly referenced U.S. asylum law, writing that the new policy undermines the clear intent of Congress in establishing a safe haven for those fleeing persecution and danger.
“Requiring noncitizens to present at ports of entry effectively [constitutes] a categorical ban on migrants who use a method of entry explicitly authorized by Congress,” Tigar wrote in the ruling.
“Conditioning asylum eligibility on presenting at a port of entry or having been denied protection in transit conflicts with the unambiguous intent of Congress,” he added later.
The suit stems from a challenge led by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), though the policy also generated lawsuits from GOP-led states.
“The ruling is a victory, but each day the Biden administration prolongs the fight over its illegal ban, many people fleeing persecution and seeking safe harbor for their families are instead left in grave danger,” Katrina Eiland, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, who argued the case, said in a statement.
“The promise of America is to serve as a beacon of freedom and hope, and the administration can and should do better to fulfill this promise, rather than perpetuate cruel and ineffective policies that betray it.”
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which promulgated the rule, did not immediately respond to a request for comment, though the Department of Justice is expected to appeal the ruling.
“We strongly disagree with today’s ruling and are confident that the Circumvention of Lawful Pathways rule is lawful,” DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement, referencing the formal title of the rule.
He noted the Department of Justice will appeal the decision and seek a stay pending appeal.
“Because the district court temporarily stayed its decision, today’s ruling does not change anything immediately. It does not limit our ability to deliver consequences for unlawful entry. Do not believe the lies of smugglers. Those who fail to use one of the many lawful pathways we have expanded will be presumed ineligible for asylum and, if they do not have a basis to remain, will be subject to prompt removal, a minimum five-year bar on admission, and potential criminal prosecution for unlawful reentry,” he said.
The rule had prompted howls from critics who argued DHS was turning to policies strikingly similar to those proposed under former President Trump. While the Biden rule had some mechanisms for migrants to fight determinations that they were ineligible for asylum, like the Trump-era third country transit ban it effectively blocked asylum for those who did not first seek it along their route.
Immigration advocates have argued few other countries have functional asylum systems to offer such protections.
But in some regard, DHS appeared to have reservations about the rule.
“To be clear, this was not our first preference or even our second,” a senior administration official told reporters when previewing the policy in February.
The court’s ruling follows the decision by the Biden administration to lift Title 42, another Trump-era policy that used the pandemic as a rationale for expelling migrants without letting them seek asylum — another contravention of asylum law.
Border crossings have dipped since the rescission of Title 42, a factor the administration credits both to the new limitations on asylum as well as the creation of new parole programs for Cubans, Haitians, Venezuelans and Nicaraguans that allows temporary admittance to the country.
Republicans and Democrats sparred over the significance of the tax crimes investigation into Hunter Biden at a House Oversight Committee hearing Wednesday that featured two IRS whistleblowers, with the GOP arguing the president's son was spared from true justice while Democrats argued he was thoroughly investigated by a team formed under the former president and led by a Trump-appointed attorney.
IRS special agent Joseph Ziegler and his supervisor, Gary Shapley, who investigated Biden, expressed frustration over how U.S. Attorney for Delaware David Weiss and other prosecutors handled the investigation, alleging authorities slow-walked the case and showed preferential treatment to the president’s son.
The House Ways and Means Committee had previously interviewed the two whistleblowers privately and released transcripts just days after prosecutors reached an agreement for Biden to plead guilty to two charges of willful failure to pay taxes.
The nearly six-hour hearing relayed little information not already covered in the nearly 400 pages of testimony from the two men, with the whistleblowers saying they could not answer questions outside the scope of that testimony.
But the hearing was revelatory about how both sides of the aisle could use that testimony.
Here are five takeaways from the hearing.
Democrats say testimony shows common disagreements
Democrats largely sought to cast the whistleblowers' complaints as common disagreements between investigative staff and prosecutors, who often have reservations about scoring convictions on evidence discovered by staff.
Ranking member Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) said the testimony showed a “traditional tug-of-war” between investigators and prosecutors, using as an example the recent indictment of former President Trump on charges of mishandling classified documents, where prosecutors focused on a small number of alleged crimes even though investigators said they found more violations.
Shapley, though, pushed back on that assertion, saying that assistant U.S. attorneys and attorneys in the Department of Justice (DOJ) tax division had agreed with a number of recommended charges, but not all were ultimately pursued.
Rep. Dan Goldman (D-N.Y.) similarly argued that investigators and attorneys often view a case differently.
“I never met an agent who didn't want to charge every possible case. But what I noticed in five hours of testimony today is that neither one of you has ever mentioned a portion of the case that may not be so strong, or may be suspect or may have a defense,” Goldman said, referencing his work as a prosecutor.
“And that's because that's what the prosecutor has to think about before charging a case.”
Ziegler testified that Weiss offered a rationale for not pursuing charges for some tax years, worried that testimony about Biden’s personal life at that time could sour the changes of conviction.
Democrats also argued that, contrary to the whistleblowers’ assertion, it sounded like Biden’s tax history was subject to a rigorous review by investigators and prosecutors.
“It sounds like Hunter Biden's taxes were subject to a great deal of scrutiny and rigorous review by a large team of expert investigators who had experience working complex cases. … The time, personnel and all the resources devoted to this investigation make it abundantly clear that this investigation was taken seriously by both the IRS and DOJ,” said Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.).
“While our witnesses here today may disagree with the U.S. attorney's decisions, it is undeniable that Hunter Biden was subject to a thorough and rigorous investigation.”
Jordan accuses Weiss of changing his story
Republicans' recent interest in impeaching Attorney General Merrick Garland centers on a key detail from Shapley’s testimony: Weiss, he said, sought and was denied special counsel status as he attempted to bring charges outside Delaware, with U.S. attorneys in other jurisdictions allegedly being opposed to him bringing charges on their turf.
Weiss has said he never asked for special counsel status — and says he was assured he would be granted special attorney status through another statute if he wished to file charges outside his district.
Weiss has outlined in both a June 7 letter and a July 10 letter that he has “never been denied the authority to bring charges in any jurisdiction.”
But House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who also sits on the Oversight Committee, mischaracterized the letters, arguing that Weiss “change[d] his story.”
“What happened in between those two events?” Jordan said of the letters. “Your testimony went public. He goes, ‘Oh, my goodness, I gotta change my story, because now the truth is coming out.’”
Weiss’s second letter includes more detail about his dealings with DOJ leaders, saying he was assured he would be granted special attorney status if needed well in advance of the meeting where Shapley asserts he said otherwise.
“When you look at the letters he actually sent, he didn't change his tune at all. He said the exact same thing every time, and he even expanded the answer to be perfectly clear," Raskin said.
Whether Weiss had interest in either of the two statuses is largely of interest to Republicans as a way to forward a potential impeachment inquiry into Garland, as he assured lawmakers that Weiss had “full authority … to bring cases in other districts if he needs to do that.”
Shapley undercuts Garland impeachment effort
Shapley also undercut another key factor fueling the GOP’s interest in impeaching Garland, saying he has no evidence that Garland intentionally misled Congress about Weiss’s authority.
“Let me be clear, although these facts contradict the attorney general's testimony and raise serious questions for you to investigate, I have never claimed evidence that Attorney General Garland knowingly lied to Congress,” Shapley said Wednesday.
“This for others to investigate and determine whether those letters contain knowingly false statements. ... I don't claim to be privy to United States Attorney Weiss’s or Attorney General Garland’s communications.”
Democrats suggested that the whistleblowers may have been confused over two statuses prosecutors can attain — appointment as a special counsel, versus the special attorney status Weiss was assured he could receive if desired.
Ziegler in his testimony asserted he still believes a more independent status is needed by those handling the investigation.
“I still think that a special counsel is necessary for this investigation,” he said.
Greene overshadows hearing with ‘parental discretion advised’ moment
Perhaps the biggest surprise in the hearing came when Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) brought sexually explicit — but censored — posters of Hunter Biden in to make her point.
“Before we begin, I would like to let the committee and everyone watching at home that parental discretion is advised,” Greene said.
Greene’s questioning included her holding up small posters featuring graphic sexual photos from the laptop hard drive that purportedly belonged to Hunter Biden, censored with black boxes.
The faces of others involved in the sexual acts were censored with black boxes, but Biden’s face is visible in the photos.
Her focus on the explicit and salacious history of Biden, who has been public about his struggles with addiction, stands in contrast to Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer's (R-Ky.) past indications that the focus of the committee’s investigation of the Biden family’s business dealings would not focus on his personal actions.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said Greene's move to show "pornographic images" marked "a new low" for the committee.
"Frankly, I don't care who you are in this country, no one deserves that. It is abuse. It is abusive," she said.
Democrats argue GOP distracts from injustice for Black and brown individuals
Several Black lawmakers directly challenged Republican claims that the Biden plea deal shows a two-tiered system of justice, saying the argument minimizes the experiences of Black and brown Americans disproportionately impacted by the justice system.
“I'd like to address the way my Republican colleagues are attempting to co-opt the phrase ‘two-tiered justice system’ to make it sound like Trump and his cronies are somehow the victims here,” Rep. Summer Lee (D-Pa.) said.
“The reality is that the term two-tiered system of justice is meant to refer to the very real system that exists in the United States, and which affects Black and brown folks, not powerful former presidents and their political allies.”
Rep. Shontel Brown (D-Ohio) listed off a number of statistics on disparities in the criminal justice system, including within IRS, asserting that Black taxpayers are audited at least three times more often than other taxpayers.
Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-Fla.) also said Republicans were using the term improperly.
“Republicans and Trump complain about a two-tiered justice system, co-opting the language of the decades-long civil rights movement for Black lives and Black freedom, a movement that they actually are actively looking to eliminate. There is a two-tiered justice system, but it's not about Democrats vs. Republican,” he said, before listing off a number of recent and historical examples, including those killed by police.
“It's Black, brown and poor people versus everyone else. And I won't accept when Republican politicians look to appropriate the language of the movement for Black lives and civil rights, to fit a political agenda to defend Donald Trump.”
Lev Parnas, once a right-hand man to Rudy Giuliani, asked the GOP’s top congressional investigator to abandon efforts to uncover wrongdoing by the Biden family in Ukraine, calling the matter “nothing more than a wild goose chase” that has been “debunked again and again.”
Parnas’s Tuesday letter to House Oversight Chair James Comer (R-Ky.), obtained by The Hill, notes that Parnas and Giuliani's repeated efforts to dig up dirt on President Biden or his son Hunter yielded nothing and confused Ukrainian prosecutors.
It also recaps the efforts taken by the Trump team that resulted in the launching of the first impeachment inquiry into former President Trump. Democrats alleged he withheld aid from Ukraine in an effort to pressure officials there to provide incriminating evidence on the Bidens.
“Throughout all these months of work, the extensive campaigns and networking done by Trump allies and Giuliani associates, including the enormously thorough interviews and assignments that I undertook, there has never been any evidence that Hunter or Joe Biden committed any crimes related to Ukrainian politics,” he said.
He said Giuliani and all others involved in the matter “knew that these allegations against the Bidens were false.”
“Never, during any of my communications with Ukrainian officials or connections to Burisma, did any of them confirm or provide concrete facts linking the Bidens to illegal activities. In fact, they asked me multiple times why our team was so concerned with this idea.”
Comer dismissed the contents of Parnas’s letter.
“Now there's somebody that Giuliani was running around with and says we should drop investigations because Giuliani and him already looked into it. I mean, I don't think that that's credible,” he said.
“We're starting to see money from Ukraine coming in on some of these bank statements that we're going to release later,” he added, a reference to his investigation into Biden family finances.
Comer has based much of his investigation on an unverified tip to the FBI from a source who heard secondhand allegations Biden accepted a bribe. The bureau was unable to corroborate the tip.
Parnas has also previously provided a transcript of a conversation he says was with Mykola Zlochevsky, the reported source of the information, denying any improper conduct by President Biden or his son Hunter, who was serving on the board of energy company Burisma, which Zlochevsky owns. That information was turned over during the impeachment inquiry.
Parnas was convicted in court of making illegal campaign contributions to Trump.
His letter comes as Comer is under increasing pressure to advance his inquiry into President Biden, who he has alleged accepted a bribe.
Even some in the GOP have criticized his investigation, with former Trump advisor Steve Bannon saying last month Comer needed to “be prepared,” adding, “You are not serious. It’s all performative.”
Comer acknowledged Monday the difficulties of explaining the financial crimes he has alleged.
“Two things I've learned: People don't know what a shell company is, and they don't know what an LLC is. They don't know what money laundering is. We're going to try to explain in a more simple form ‘this is what they did,’” he told reporters.
Those in Trump’s orbit have alleged President Biden sought to withhold aid from Ukraine because its top prosecutor was threatening to investigate his son. Biden, joined by the international community, actually sought to pressure Ukraine to remove the man, Viktor Shokin, over corruption charges.
Parnas’s letter spends ample time breaking down the investigative efforts of Giuliani, which included trying to get Shokin’s replacement, Yuriy Lutsenko, to retain him for $200,000.
It details the repeated dead ends they hit, and the numerous efforts to pressure Ukrainian officials.
“Giuliani’s message to the [then-Ukrainian] president [Petro Poroshenko], who was running for reelection, was that Trump would support him and help him win if he made an official announcement of an investigation against Joe Biden,” Parnas writes.
Parnas ends with a plea to Comer to halt his investigation.
“There is no evidence of Joe or Hunter Biden interfering with Ukrainian politics, and there never has been,” Parnas writes.
“With all due respect, Chairman Comer, the narrative you are seeking for this investigation has been proven false many times over, by a wide array of respected sources. There is simply no merit to investigating this matter any further. I hope my letter has provided you with additional clarity on this point.”
House Republicans are debating whether to focus impeachment efforts on Attorney General Merrick Garland after Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) suggested an inquiry against him, taking some members by surprise after much of the GOP impeachment furor had been directed at other Biden officials.
In a year where the GOP has been most steadily focused on possible impeachments of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas or President Biden, McCarthy often has been the voice urging the conference to move patiently and deliberately.
But he has shown more vigor when eyeing Garland, an official leading an agency often derided by the GOP but a figure less frequently cited by the party’s members who are most keen on impeachment.
McCarthy first elevated the topic with a tweet late last month touting testimony of an IRS whistleblower who has alleged mismanagement of the investigation into Hunter Biden, saying it could serve as “a significant part of a larger impeachment inquiry.”
But the conference — though eager to investigate — hasn’t rushed to back the idea, with some questioning whether there is a legal basis for impeaching Garland and others saying different Cabinet secretaries should be reviewed first.
“I don't know of a chargeable crime,” Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) told The Hill.
Issa said it’s up to the president to remove those who aren’t following orders or properly carrying out their jobs, with Congress only stepping in if a president fails to remove those who have committed crimes.
“It’s very, very popular with people in the hinterlands,” Issa said when asked about members of the Freedom Caucus and others who have backed the rarely used move of impeaching a Cabinet official.
“But the reality is that if someone is faithfully executing the desires and the orders of the president of the United States, then they're within the bounds of what Cabinet officers do," he added. "If they're not faithfully executing the request of the president, then we don't have to impeach him because they serve at the pleasure of the president.”
Some of the Republicans who have authored the more than a dozen impeachment resolutions filed this Congress were surprised the officials those documents had targeted haven’t taken center stage.
“I was one of the original co-sponsors of the Secretary Blinken impeachment,” Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) said. “We ought to take that up first for the incredibly, horribly done withdrawal from Afghanistan.”
McCarthy doubled down on action against Garland last week in a Fox News op-ed.
“When a prosecutor shields his boss’s son from investigators, it smells like a cover-up. Garland’s DOJ did not aggressively follow the money. Why? Are they afraid where that trail ends?” he said.
“Clearly, someone is not telling the truth, and Congress has a duty to get answers,” McCarthy continued.
The Justice Department said Garland by design stayed out of the Biden investigation, leaving the inquiry in the hands of David Weiss, the U.S. attorney for Delaware who initiated it during the Trump administration.
Among other things, the whistleblower contends Weiss was blocked from getting authority to bring charges outside of Delaware. Every Justice Department official involved in the matter — including Weiss and Garland — has said otherwise, noting the prosecutor was assured he would receive special attorney status if he wished to file charges elsewhere.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee that serves as the clearinghouse for such inquiries, backed the idea, offering stronger support for impeaching Garland than some of the other secretaries floated as targets for his committee.
“I think he sees the facts now,” Jordan said of McCarthy. “So it's quickly [becoming] who are you going to believe? … I'm with the speaker on we need to get to the facts. And if it warrants moving forward with an inquiry we got to do that.”
“That'll be a decision that in the end will be made by the entire conference,” he added.
Until McCarthy’s comments, Mayorkas seemed like the likeliest target of any potential House GOP impeachment of a member of Biden’s Cabinet. Conservative members have been pushing to impeach him for nearly two years over policies at the U.S.-Mexico border, and McCarthy himself had said Mayorkas should resign or face an investigation that could lead to impeachment.
But asked on Fox Business last week about impeaching Mayorkas, McCarthy pointed to a border bill passed by the House GOP and noted the House Homeland Security Committee is investigating the issue, along with taking the lead on investigating Biden following a resolution from Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) seeking to boot the president over his handling of the border.
The competing interests will be a struggle for McCarthy and Jordan.
“I think the chairman of Judiciary has a cat-herding issue that he's got to deal with, probably,” said Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.), who serves on the panel and the House Homeland Security Committee, which plans to forward its oversight report on Mayorkas for use by Judiciary.
“I will say that I have a less fully formed case in my head in all its particulars about Merrick Garland than I do about the others,” Bishop added.
Some members told The Hill that McCarthy’s embrace of a potential impeachment inquiry against Garland, coming over a two-week Independence Day recess, caught them by surprise when they returned to Washington last week.
House Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-Minn.), the highest-ranking member of leadership to say Mayorkas should be impeached if he does not step down, said he has not carefully studied the issues with Garland — but he welcomed investigation of a Department of Justice that “appears to” have “a double standard for how it approaches cases.”
House Republicans held a conference meeting Thursday morning in which Jordan and House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) gave updates on their investigatory efforts into the Biden family, the Justice Department and beyond. Lawmakers said McCarthy urged Republicans to follow the evidence.
Some lawmakers are welcoming the probe into Garland even as it threatens to put other potential impeachment probes on the back burner.
Rep. Pat Fallon (R-Texas), who sponsored the first resolution to be introduced this Congress to impeach Mayorkas, expressed support for a Garland impeachment.
“I think you can do both,” he said, adding later, “We need to have a vote on the House floor with Mayorkas because the border in and of itself is just a — isn't even a catastrophe. It's cataclysmic.”
Other members likewise said they weren’t concerned about the GOP balancing its many budding impeachment investigations.
“I wouldn’t mind if we had a new one every day,” Boebert said.
Rep. Victoria Spartz (R-Ind.), however, urged a cautious approach.
“It’s a pretty serious issue. We’re doing a lot now with different Biden investigations. So I think if the committee believes there is a case with any of the executives that rises to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors then we will do that, but I don't think that is something that we should take lightly,” she said.
Democrats dismissed the idea that there is any case to be made against Garland.
Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) said although Republicans have claimed Garland may have lied to Congress, they’ve yet to offer anything to prove it.
“The Republicans need to recall that the constitutional standard for impeachment is high crimes and misdemeanors not doing stuff that Donald Trump disagrees with,” he said.
“Donald Trump's U.S. Attorney in the Western District of Pennsylvania and [Trump Attorney General] William Barr found that there were no grounds for pursuing an investigation into allegations of corruption against Joe Biden,” he added.
“That would be a very strange reason to impeach Merrick Garland.”
House Democrats on Friday released a report that includes segments of interviews over the last three months with border patrol sector chiefs they say undermine Republican arguments there is a crisis at the border.
The report is an effort to undercut a potential GOP impeachment inquiry against Homeland Security Secretary Alejando Mayorkas, and to counter narratives pushed by GOP leaders, who responded that Democrats had “cherry-picked” information.
“Democratic Committee staff is providing this memorandum to share the perspectives of Chief Patrol Agents which Republicans have chosen to ignore because they contradict the false and misleading claims promoted in order to justify efforts to impeach Secretary Mayorkas,” Democrats from both the House Oversight Committee and the House Homeland Security Committee concluded in the report.
“During their transcribed interviews, the Chief Patrol Agents presented assessments of border security unequivocally contrary to this Republican narrative. Chief Patrol Agents disagreed that a crisis currently exists at the southwest border and, in their own words, described their operations to obtain border security as successful.”
In one section of the report, Democrats take aim on GOP claims that Mayorkas is “intentionally” seeking disruption at the border, with staff asking multiple agents if they had ever been instructed by the secretary to stop securing the border, a question that garnered repeated nos.
Democrats said agents have “never received orders or directives to cease operations to secure the southwest border, and policies implemented have remained consistent with the law enforcement duties of U.S. Border Patrol agents.”
The memo also reviews other policy decisions made by the Biden administration, including the rescission of Title 42, which has led to a decline in figures at the border.
Republicans have been critical of the change in procedure, which reverts back to processing under Title 8, which includes consequences for improperly crossing the border.
Officers interviewed by the committee discussed the process for checking the background of those apprehended, something Democrats said countered Republican assertions that terrorists or those with criminal records could enter the country.
“Each Chief Patrol Agent explained that U.S. Border Patrol continues to screen individuals it apprehends for criminal backgrounds or suspected ties to terrorist organizations and processed accordingly. In particular, the Chief Patrol Agents made clear that biometric data from apprehended individuals is screened against American law enforcement databases and, in some instances, even information from foreign governments,” Democrats wrote.
“Apprehended individuals who are found to possess a criminal history are not unilaterally released into the United States without diligent consultation with other law enforcement agencies.”
Agents interviewed also praised the rollout of staff designated to help with processing migrants, something they say has aided in getting officers into the field.
A GOP border bill this year barred funding for any such processing staff.
“They’re processing individuals, helping to not only do that, but they might be remote processing, things of that nature, to help us make sure that we’re having the data input that we need, reduces the amount of agents that are needed in our processing areas,” Big Bend Sector Chief Patrol Agent Sean McGoffin told the committees in April.
“And I think we’ve been very successful with that. We’re currently about—roughly 16 percent of our agents are actually processing as a whole. So that really helps our morale.”
Republicans responded by releasing different portions of the interviews, including segments that stressed the need for consequences for those who cross the border, something that has been aided by the return of Title 8.
They also included segments with agents describing current levels of migration at historic highs.
“Today’s Democrat memorandum manipulates the facts contained in over 850 pages of testimony from Chief Patrol Agents stationed along the border to cover up the Biden border crisis,” House Oversight Chair James Comer (R-Ky.) and House Homeland Security Chair Mark Green (R-Tenn.) said in a statement.
“In reality, Chief Patrol Agents have detailed to our committees the historically high levels of illegal border crossings, migrant deaths, rescues of migrants put in peril by cartel smuggling organizations, gotaways, and assaults against our heroic Border Patrol agents.”
The House Oversight Committee will hear from two IRS whistleblowers next Wednesday, including one whose identity has yet to be revealed, after the duo alleged an investigation into Hunter Biden was slow-walked by prosecutors.
Testimony from IRS investigator Gary Shapley and another individual identified only as Whistleblower X was shared by the House Ways and Means Committee the day after U.S. Attorney for Delaware David Weiss announced he had reached a plea deal with Biden that would require guilty pleas on two tax charges.
Shapley in particular said Biden received preferential treatment, with prosecutors hesitant to pursue search warrants. He also said Weiss was unable to bring charges in D.C., where he believes he would have had the strongest case.
“These whistleblowers provided information about how the Justice Department refused to follow evidence that implicated Joe Biden, tipped off Hunter Biden’s attorneys, allowed the clock to run out with respect to certain charges, and put Hunter Biden on the path to a sweetheart plea deal. Americans are rightfully angry about this two-tiered system of justice that seemingly allows the Biden family to operate above the law,” House Oversight Chair James Comer (R-Ky.) said in a statement.
“We need to hear from whistleblowers and other witnesses about this weaponization of federal law enforcement power. This hearing is an opportunity for the American people to hear directly from these credible and brave whistleblowers.”
Whistleblower X’s identity is set to be revealed at the afternoon hearing on July 19.
Weiss and the Justice Department have denied the claims from the whistleblowers, including specific claims that the Delaware prosecutor was denied special counsel status that would have allowed him to pursue charges in D.C.
While that facet of Shapley’s testimony is just one detail in his larger claims of mismanagement of the investigation, it’s become a central focus to Republican leadership, as Attorney General Merrick Garland said in an appearance before lawmakers that Weiss had total control of the investigation.
McCarthy first raised the prospect of a Garland impeachment in June, saying on Twitter that Shapley’s testimony could be “a significant part of a larger impeachment inquiry into Merrick Garland's weaponization of DOJ.”
“What's really concerning to me is who in this process is lying?” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said to reporters Tuesday.
“The Attorney General has told Congress one thing, David Weiss has told others different inside these meetings. I think the best thing is bring everybody in the room and find out who's telling the truth and who's not.”
McCarthy was referencing testimony from Shapley saying Weiss said he was unable to bring charges in D.C. or secure special counsel status.
“I would later be told by United States Attorney Weiss that the D.C. U.S. Attorney would not allow U.S. Attorney Weiss to charge those years in his district. This resulted in United States Attorney Weiss requesting special counsel authority from Main DOJ to charge in the District of Columbia. I don't know if he asked before or after the Attorney General's April 26th, 2022, statement, but Weiss said his request for that authority was denied and that he was told to follow DOJ's process,” Shapley told Ways and Means investigators.
Echoing earlier statements that he had total control over the investigation, Weiss in a Monday letter offered his clearest language yet in pushing back on Shapley’s claims.
There are two statutes on the books governing such appointments and the powers associated with them, Weiss notes, including a status allowing him to file charges outside his district of Delaware.
“To clarify an apparent misperception and to avoid future confusion, I wish to make one point clear: in this case, I have not requested Special Counsel designation pursuant to 28 CFR § 600 et seq. Rather, I had discussions with Departmental officials regarding potential appointment under 28 U.S.C. § 515, which would have allowed me to file charges in a district outside my own without the partnership of the local U.S. Attorney,” Weiss wrote in a letter obtained by The Hill.
“I was assured that I would be granted this authority if it proved necessary.”
Biden has agreed to plead guilty to two counts of willful failure to pay taxes and amid the five-year investigation has since paid more than $200,000 in taxes.
He also agreed to enter a pretrial diversion program relating to a failure to admit to drug use when purchasing a weapon.
“This was a five year, very diligent investigation pursued by incredibly professional prosecutors, some of whom have been career prosecutors, one of whom at least was appointed by President Trump,” Biden attorney Chris Clark said during an appearance on MSNBC last month.
“What I can tell you is, they were very diligent, very dogged. This was – it took five years and it was five years of work that they put in, and even throughout working out the ultimate resolution, I think that they were always driving for what they thought was fair.”
Justice Department officials and Hunter Biden’s attorneys are ramping up their pushback against Republican claims the president’s son received preferential treatment during the investigation into his failure to pay taxes.
Republicans released a transcript from an IRS whistleblower who questioned the integrity of the Biden tax probe just days after his attorney announced they reached an agreement with DOJ officials in Delaware that would mean no jail time but require Biden to plead guilty in relation to two tax crimes.
The deal — which has yet to be approved by a judge — and the investigation are already the subject of a three-committee probe after IRS investigator Gary Shapley alleged the criminal investigation was slow-walked by the DOJ.
But the GOP focus on Biden is now generating a firmer response, particularly since Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) suggested the episode could be grounds for impeaching Attorney General Merrick Garland.
One of Biden’s attorneys late last week penned a blistering letter accusing House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jason Smith (R-Mo.) of violating provisions that protect the confidentiality of tax information in his rush to release Shapley's testimony.
“Since taking the majority in 2023, various leaders of the House and its committees have discarded the established protocols of Congress, rules of conduct, and even the law in what can only be called an obsession with attacking the Biden family,” Biden attorney Abbe Lowell wrote in a 10-page letter.
“The timing of the agents’ leaks and your subsequent decision to release their statements do not seem innocent — they came shortly after there was a public filing indicating the disposition of the five-year investigation of Mr. Biden. To any objective eye your actions were intended to improperly undermine the judicial proceedings that have been scheduled in the case. Your release of this selective set of false allegations was an attempt to score a headline in a news cycle — full facts be damned,” the letter continued.
Lowell complains the agents who spoke to the panel — Shapley and another unidentified person — had an “axe to grind” and assumed they knew better than prosecutors managing the five-year investigation.
Shapley asserts in his testimony that U.S. Attorney for Delaware David Weiss asked for a special counsel to charge Biden in the District of Columbia, where more egregious tax conduct occurred, but was denied. Shapley also said D.C. District Attorney Matthew Graves opposed bringing charges in the District of Columbia.
But Weiss has strongly rejected any claims his office did not zealously pursue the case, pushing back on the whistleblower’s claims. Weiss, a Trump appointee who was one of the few U.S. attorneys asked to stay on after President Biden took office, told lawmakers in June he had complete authority over how to handle the investigation.
Weiss late Friday said in a letter to Congress that he could have asked for special counsel status if he wished to bring charges in Washington, and he was assured that option was available.
“In my June 7 letter I stated, ‘I have been granted ultimate authority over this matter, including responsibility for deciding where, when and whether to file charges.’ ... I stand by what I wrote and wish to expand on what this means,” Weiss said.
“As the U.S. Attorney for the District of Delaware, my charging authority is geographically limited to my home district. If venue for a case lies elsewhere, common Departmental practice is to contact the United States Attorney’s Office for the district in question and determine whether it wants to partner on the case,” he added.
“If not, I may request Special Attorney status from the Attorney General pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 515. Here, I have been assured that, if necessary after the above process, I would be granted § 515 Authority in the District of Columbia, the Central District of California, or any other district where charges could be brought in this matter.”
Weiss has agreed to meet with the committee to discuss the investigation further “at the appropriate time.”
Graves has denied stymying the Hunter Biden investigation, while Garland has said Weiss had full control to make any decisions he deemed necessary in the case.
The contradiction between the whistleblower and Weiss about where to charge Biden, and whether a special counsel and charging in D.C. was denied, is at the core of the House Speaker’s interest in an impeachment inquiry targeting Garland.
McCarthy said Garland’s assertion before Congress and the public that Weiss had full control over the investigation could be grounds for impeachment if it’s determined that Shapley’s testimony is true.
“He didn't get charged for some of the highest prosecution. They want to have a special counsel. And now we're seeing that the DOJ, the attorney general, declined that, even though he's saying something different,” McCarthy said on Fox News last week. “None of it smells right, and none of it is right.”
Republicans have ramped up their investigations since the plea deal.
Smith, along with House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and House Oversight Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.), requested interviews with more than a dozen figures involved in the investigation to determine whether there was “equal enforcement of the law.”
The panel wishes to speak with numerous FBI, IRS and DOJ employees.
“It’s little surprise that Hunter Biden’s attorneys are attempting to chill our investigation and discredit the whistleblowers who say they have already faced retaliation from the IRS and the Department of Justice despite statutory protections established by law. These whistleblowers bravely came forward with allegations about misconduct and preferential treatment for Hunter Biden — and now face attacks even from an army of lawyers he hired,” Smith said in response to the letter from Lowell.
“Worse, this letter misleads the public about the lawful actions taken by the Ways and Means Committee, which took the appropriate legal steps to share this information with [the] rest of Congress. It doesn’t even address concerns that counsel for Mr. Biden was regularly tipped off about potential warrants and raids in pursuit of evidence that implicated him, as well as his father. We will continue to go where the facts take us — and we will not abandon our investigation just because Mr. Biden’s lawyers don’t like it,” Smith added.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) on Wednesday spearheaded a letter signed by the three House chairmen asking for the Office of Special Counsel to review any potential retaliation against Shapley and the other whistleblower since they came forward.
Shapley on Monday also submitted an affidavit saying he was not the source of leaks to the media about the Biden investigation, a possibility Lowell raises in his letter.
Weiss said in a statement at the time the investigation was “ongoing.”
Garland has said he remained uninvolved in Weiss’s investigation, arguing the U.S. attorney’s independence was key to ensure a proper investigation was led by the facts.
He also defended the integrity of the Justice Department more broadly, pushing back on GOP claims of political bias.
“Some have chosen to attack the integrity of the Justice Department … by claiming we do not treat like cases alike. This constitutes an attack on an institution that is essential to American democracy and essential to the safety of the American people,” Garland said in a recent press conference. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”