Congress’ McCarthy-style investigation

The following is an excerpted letter from Democratic U.S. Reps. Jan Schakowsky, Diane DeGette, Suzan K. DelBene, Jerrold Nadler, Jackie Speier and Bonnie Watson to House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., regarding a congressional investigation into Planned Parenthood.

We ask for your assistance in resolving what we believe is a serious abuse of congressional power. When you were elected speaker of the House, you stressed your desire to “make some changes, starting with how the House does business,” including a “return to regular order” and a desire to “open up the process.”

We agree. In your role as chairman of the Budget Committee and the Ways and Means Committee, you demonstrated your commitment to operate in an open, transparent and collegial manner. The House Select Investigative Panel created through H.Res. 461 is not operating in that fashion and should be disbanded.

After promising … that she would hold an initial organizational meeting, Chair Marsha Blackburn has refused to hold any such meeting or to discuss with Democrats an investigative plan or rules and a timeline for completion of the panel’s work.

In fact, when asked during the panel’s first public hearing to explain what the panel is investigating and, in particular, how her sweeping demand for the names of researchers, graduate students, lab technicians, clinical staff and doctors furthers any legitimate aim of this investigation, Blackburn refused to do so.

In addition to refusing to provide the basic, required explanation of what she is investigating and why, Blackburn’s day-to-day operation violates longstanding rules and practice of the House and its committees.

Blackburn has denied Democrats access to the panel’s records and files, refused to identify the source or foundation for materials used in public hearings and routinely issued unilateral subpoenas without the required notice or consultation.

Just last week, for example … the chair issued 19 unilateral subpoenas. Of the 19 entities and individuals served, 17 were never afforded an opportunity to comply voluntarily before receiving a subpoena.

Having refused to afford entities the opportunity to comply voluntarily, the chair has made false public claims of widespread non-compliance and unjustly portrayed individuals and entities as “clearly rattled with basic facts coming to light” and resistant to “letting all the facts come out.“ In fact, the panel has received more than 18,000 pages of documents over the course of this investigation.

Blackburn’s “secret” subpoenas issued without the required notice or consultation and without any effort to obtain voluntary cooperation first do not reflect the values you have laid out or the accepted rules and practices of the House.

Perhaps most egregious, however, is the mistreatment of individuals who are now being compelled to appear before the panel.

Almost every person contacted by the panel has expressed fear for their safety if identified in connection with this investigation, which has repeatedly been described by the chair and other Republicans using highly misleading and inflammatory language. These concerns are not hypothetical or exaggerated.

The Republican demand that people appear and name other individuals when they do so is reminiscent of Sen. Joe McCarthy, whose bullying behavior ultimately resulted in censure by the U.S. Senate but not before he had damaged many Americans’ lives and careers with unfounded accusations and insinuations.

As Rep. Jerry Nadler noted at the panel’s second hearing: “This committee is worse than McCarthy investigations because McCarthy endangered people’s jobs. This committee is knowingly endangering people’s lives. “

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