Savvy readers will remember journalist Rob Schilling’s investigation into the weaponization of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. That Committee appeared, under its prior leadership, to be accepting “in kind” contributions from wealthy donors — boasted of by everyone from George Soros’s and Pierre Omidyar’s activist groups to the in-kind “staff” and Subcommittee Chair Ro Khanna (in seesaw fashion) — which coincided with the threat of subpoenas to the targets of these donors’ political ire.
Ugly precedent, that. The term Weaponization of the Federal Government comes to mind.
Schilling sought records from the House and its officers which would have shed light on the degree to which outside actors using outside funding had engineered and/or helped execute the agenda of a Congressional Committee. When he was denied access to those records, he filed suit in the US District Court against the House and its Speaker (at the time, Nancy Pelosi), seeking access under the Common Law Right of Access, which empowers citizens to review government records and activities. He later amended the Complaint to include the Committee.
“You have spent a year and a half and millions of taxpayers’ dollars conducting this investigation. It is imperative that all information collected be preserved not just for institutional prerogatives but for transparency to the American people… The American people have a right to know that the allegations you have made are supported by the facts.”
The District Court dismissed Schilling’s suit, ruling that Congress was absolutely immune from suits under the Common Law Right of Access despite decisions dating back to the 1970s which suggest otherwise. Schilling appealed to the D.C. Circuit Court. There, the (soon to be outgoing-) Speaker Pelosi quickly filed a Motion for Summary Affirmance, seeking to deny Mr. Schilling the chance to even brief his claims in the ordinary way that all appeals are handled.
As Schilling noted in his opposition, this seemed to be a rush effort to avoid the prospect of Pelosi’s successor possibly having another view on whether such behavior should be free from the disinfectant of sunlight. After all, Kevin McCarthy had promised increased transparency, and even offered more pointed and highly relevant comments. For example, he wrote in November 2022 to the January 6 Committee that:
While the sentiments were directed at another committee, they could not be more perfect for this occasion.
Days later, Speaker Pelosi’s term in office ended and Speaker Kevin McCarthy took office. Now, the D.C. Circuit has agreed that possibly the new Speaker has a different view of transparency in the legislative branch than did his predecessor in office. This week, when ordering that Kevin McCarthy be substituted as a Defendant in this case, the Court further ordered that he must file a Motion by February 24 setting forth his view of how the issue should be handled going forward.
This serves up to Speaker McCarthy another opportunity to fulfill his promises, right one of the last Congress’s most egregious violations of norms and abuses of position, and ensure transparency in the people’s House in the face of overwhelming evidence of wrongdoing. Government Accountability & Oversight looks forward to reading what Mr. McCarthy has to say when he files his brief next month.