White House

The White House’s months-long preparation for a GOP investigation onslaught

Four months ago, voters gave Republicans control of the House of Representatives. Top White House officials and Department of Homeland Security officials huddled together in Roosevelt Room to plan for this scenario.

Alejandro Mayorkas, the secretary of the department, was the top target of Republican ire over Biden’s border security policy. This ire is sure to fuel congressional investigations as Republicans are expected to narrowly win the House majority and the subpoena powers that go with it.

Two sources said that White House lawyers questioned senior DHS officials at the Roosevelt Room conference table about their preparations to handle the broad-ranging Republican oversight they were anticipating, including the Republicans’ plans to impeach Mayorkas.

Richard Sauber (a veteran white-collar lawyer hired in May to supervise the administration’s response under congressional oversight), convened the meeting. It was one of many White House meetings since the summer that included lawyers from all levels of the administration, including the Defense Department and the State Department.

People familiar with the effort stated that the goal was to make sure agencies are prepared for the next investigation onslaught and coordinate an administration-wide approach.

Two administration officials confirmed that while President Joe Biden and Democrats campaigned for their congressional majority, a small group of lawyers, communications strategists, and legislative specialists spent the last few months in Washington, preparing for the alternative.

These preparations were largely made at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, near the White House. They are among the most thorough and earliest by any administration in advance of a midterm election. It also highlights how aggressive and far-reaching Republican investigations can be.

The White House also hired Ian Sams, a veteran Democratic communications aide, to be its spokesperson for the White House counsel’s offices. Anita Dunn, a top Biden adviser, returned to the White House this spring to supervise the administration’s preparations for a GOP-controlled Congress.

The Justice Department is also preparing for investigations and has brought in Austin Evers, a well-known attorney for government transparency, to assist with legislative oversight. Evers founded the American Oversight group and was its executive director from 2011 to this year. He also previously managed the oversight response at State Department.

Studying Jordan and Comer

According to administration officials, the White House will hire additional staff and lawyers to strengthen its oversight response team over the next two months before Congress reconvenes in January. According to a source familiar, the hires will strengthen Sauber’s existing team of 10 lawyers.

The team has been closely following the activities of GOP targets and strategy. They have paid particular attention to Reps. Jim Jordan from Ohio and James Comer from Kentucky. These two Republicans are likely to lead many of the investigations under a GOP-controlled House. They spent months telegraphing and preparing their intentions through TV interviews and oversight letters.

The first salvo was Thursday’s joint news conference by Comer and Jordan to show off the different investigations into President Joe Biden’s family.

Comer, the House Oversight Committee’s top Republican, stated that the committee would evaluate Joe Biden’s relationship with his foreign partners. It will also determine whether he is corrupted or influenced by foreign money and influence. “I want it to be crystal clear: This is an investigation into Joe Biden. That’s where this committee will concentrate in the next Congress.”

Jordan, Comer, and other Republicans from the Oversight Committee said that Republicans made connections between Hunter Biden’s son and the president, which they believe warrants further investigation.

Comer was accused by the White House of following “long-debunked conspiratorial theories.”

Even though the Republican majority looks much smaller than expected, with a margin of only a few seats, all indications point to the fact that House Republicans will continue to pursue a broad-ranging set of investigations into every aspect of the Biden administration. This includes the messy US withdrawal from Afghanistan, Covid-19 vaccine mandates, and the Justice Department’s handling of various investigations related to Donald Trump.

Republicans also plan to investigate the president’s family, especially Hunter Biden.

There is little chance that legislation will be passed in a deadlocked Congress. Therefore, investigations will become the focus of how a House Republican majority uses its power.

Brendan Buck, a former top advisor to House Speaker Paul Ryan, stated that he believes GOP leader Kevin McCarthy would have “very few leashes” to control his investigative pursuits.

Already, over 500 House Republicans have written to the administration asking for documents to be preserved. Key committees have also hired new legal counsels to assist with investigations. Leadership has also hosted classes to teach staff how to use the oversight tools available to them.

According to a source familiar, McCarthy’s office worked with potential committee chairs for the past

several months to delegate who will be investigating what.

Source: “It’s almost like a clearinghouse.”

The GOP’s call for aggressive investigations may be met with resistance by the moderate wing, who would like to use their newly-established majority to address legislative priorities. They don’t want to just pummel Hunter Biden or Dr. Anthony Fauci. McCarthy has pledged to ensure that he conducts thorough oversight but he must also balance the demands of competing parties within his party.

Officials at the White House believe that Republicans will overstep their bounds and that America’s public will be disappointed by their excessive investigation. They are ready to fight back, believing that many of the proposed investigations are based upon conspiracy theories and politically motivated accusations.

“President Biden will not allow these political attacks to distract him from focusing his attention on Americans’ priorities, so we hope that congressional Republicans will join our efforts in tackling them instead than wasting time on political revenge,” Sams (spokesman for White House counsel’s office) said in a statement.

“We look forward to seeing you in January”

The House’s expected slim majority will likely make it harder to take steps such as impeaching members from Biden’s Cabinet or even the president. Sources said that they won’t try, especially when it comes down to the border or Mayorkas.

The House Homeland Security Committee gave a glimpse of what was to come on Tuesday. In a four-hour marathon hearing, Republican lawmakers quizzed Mayorkas about the influx of migrants to the southern border, the number who evade Border Patrol capture, and the encounters with border officials who are on terror watch lists.

Mayorkas held firm to his position, defending the border as “secure” and rejecting criticisms that it was “open”, as Republicans claimed.

Clay Higgins, a Republican Representative from Louisiana, hinted at more testimony next year and told Mayorkas that “We look forwards to seeing you in January.”

Officials said that Mayorkas is not being deterred by threats of impeachment, and plans to continue as the head of the department. He reiterated this Tuesday. Mayorkas’s close associate said that Mayorkas is still “nervous” about GOP investigations and the possibility of being repeatedly hauled before Congress, according to a source.

When asked about Mayorkas’ attitude towards potential GOP investigations into border issues or impeachment, a US official who is familiar with Mayorkas’ thoughts said “Don’t allow the bastards to win.”

The official stated that they would respond to legitimate questions. “We are not going to feed into what could end up as kabuki theatre.”

According to a Homeland Security official who said that DHS has already responded to hundreds of congressional inquiries per month and the department had been planning for an increase in congressional activity for months. According to a Homeland Security official, the department is ready to respond aggressively to any attempts to mischaracterize DHS’s strong record and to counter “politically motivated attacks on the secretary”.

DHS officials thought about hiring outside legal counsel to prepare them for the possible onslaught from Republican scrutiny but decided not to do so, according to a source who was familiar with the matter. The source said Ricki Seidman is a former senior counsel to Mayorkas and a senior Justice Department official who was involved in DHS’s preparations for the GOP oversight.

Another official from Homeland Security stated that Border Patrol and Customs and Border Protection would be the “most hot.”

Hunter Biden’s probe

Next year, the most controversial investigations will be into Hunter Biden, the son of President Obama.

Multiple sources claim that top Republicans were generally happy for Comer, multiple sources stated. Jordan will not be involved in the Hunter Biden investigation but will support Comer and appear with him at the press conference.

Comer stated that they would present what we know so far about Hunter Biden and the crimes we believe he committed, just before the election. “Then we will be very clear about what we are investigating and who we are gonna ask for transcript interviews.

Hunter Biden denied any wrongdoing in his business activities.

Jordan and other soon-to-be powerful Republican lawmakers, including Mike Turner of Ohio, are trying to disengage their committees from the Hunter Biden investigation to make way for other investigations they consider “more serious,” sources claimed.

Hunter Biden’s attorneys will be handling Republican investigations involving Hunter Biden. Bob Bauer, President’s lawyer, will deal with matters relating to Joe Biden’s capacity, but not those that affect his official duties. Bauer, who is married to Dunn, and White House lawyers have already met to divide up the workflow and determine which lines of inquiry might be relevant to Joe Biden’s role as president and vice president.

“We know it’s coming”

A key point of interest will be likely to be the administration’s handling of August 2021’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. This resulted in the deaths of 13 Marines, and almost 200 Afghans when a bomb was detonated at Kabul Airport.

Officials said that a small number of State Department officials have already begun to plan for the forthcoming investigations into Afghanistan. This group will be working with Sauber’s White House team, but State Department officials anticipate taking the lead in dealing with GOP inquiries into Afghanistan.

Officials said that while the department has not yet hired any new personnel to assist with these efforts, certain department officials expect to spend more time responding to congressional inquiries.

Texas Rep. Michael McCaul is expected to lead the Republican investigation into the withdrawal. He is the top Republican member of the House Foreign Affairs committee. McCaul has a history of good relations with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, which State Department officials hope will continue.

Administration officials stated that they will take McCaul’s inquiry seriously as they believe he will show the seriousness of purpose and not make rash demands like other Republicans. House Republican aides stated that they will explore the willingness of the administration to work with them, before issuing subpoenas.

One of the GOP aides said that if they are willing to meet us in the middle and give us some documents or agree to turn over certain people but not all, that’s a good start. “But, if they want to be obstructive and refuse to answer every request, then subpoenas will likely come fairly quickly.”

Officials said that while the department completed its review of the withdrawal in March and released the results, they have not made public the conclusions. It was expected that it would be published earlier in the year. However, State Department officials stated that the White House has made that determination and that they are not sure where that decision stands. House Republicans would like to see the report.

Officials at the Pentagon are preparing for public grilling in televised hearings. This could include questions about Afghanistan, “wokeness” within the force, and discharging troops who refuse to receive the Covid-19 vaccine.

One administration official stated, “We know it’s coming.”

Officials said that Gen. Mark Milley (chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff), and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin (deputy secretary) have been subject to sharp criticism from congressional Republicans. They know the next months will be difficult politically and are determined to continue until the end of the Biden government.

Republicans have made Milley a target because of his well-known efforts in preventing the Trump presidency’s final weeks from turning into a national security emergency.

Austin and Milley have both rebuffed GOP claims that the military is “woke.” This topic will likely become a focal point for many Republicans over the next few months.

“Feed the base meat”

Rafi Prober, a congressional investigation specialist at the law firm AkinGump who has previously worked under the Obama administration, stated that “This Congress is going to be a Congress under Republican control unlike any other.”

Aaron Cutler, who is the head of Washington government investigations at law firm Hogan Lovells, and an ex-Republican congressional staffer, stated that partisan investigations are meant to “feed the base red beef.”

Cutler stated that he had heard from conservatives suggesting that the weak result for Republicans in the midterm election may mean less “silliness” in politics. “The American people are retaliating and saying that they want the government to function.

This is precisely the calculation that the White House, congressional Democrats, and Congress are making. According to a senior House Democratic source, aggressive attacks against Biden’s son might backfire. He also said that congressional Democrats were preparing to defend the president with “lies and hypocrisy”.

A team of White House lawyers has advised senior White House staff, in the context of the GOP investigations, how to “not be seen as influence politically sensitive missions at (departments or agencies),” according to a source familiar.

Biden answered a question about potential GOP investigations into his son at a press conference last week. He said that the American people would see all of it as what it was. It’s almost comical. “… I don’t know what they’re going do.”

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