The other shoe just dropped. Or maybe it’s the first shoe. It’s a new committee to keep an eye on the way the government collects information on private citizens. Good idea? Sure, why not. As the new speaker, Kevin McCarthy, put it, “Government should be here to help you, not go after you.”

That was his explanation for the new committee, one of the first moves of the new speaker from his eleventh-hour compromise. The committee was supposedly modeled after Sen. Frank Church’s famous Church Committee of the mid-1970s, although “this seems less (Frank) Church and more (Joe) McCarthy,” according to Beverly Gage, a history professor at Yale and the author of a 2022 biography of J. Edgar Hoover, known for misusing the agency for political purposes.

Susan Estrich

The resolution setting up the committee included open-ended language that gave it mission of investigating “how executive branch agencies work with, obtain information from and provide information to the private sector, nonprofit entities or other government agencies to facilitate action against American citizens.”

The Church Committee uncovered serious wrongdoing at the CIA, the FBI and the NSA, and led to much stronger congressional oversight of the intelligence community. Joe McCarthy and his committee destroyed the lives of innocent people and led to much regret and hand-wringing, to put it mildly.

“In principle,” Gage told reporters, “having a regular investigation of FBI methods could be a good thing. But these circumstances are not the circumstances that are most likely to lead to real value for a broader public conversation.”

That’s putting it nicely.

These circumstances are the circumstances in which Republicans are attacking the FBI for doing their job, protecting the security of top-secret documents. There was a time when the Republicans were the party of law and order. That time has passed. Now they are the party of no law and complete disorder. To say they have lost their way is an understatement.

Does anyone think that the right wing of the right wing of the House of Representatives is going to give the FBI a fair shake?

What hope does the CIA have if the best it can do is look to the likes of me for its defense?

This isn’t really a liberal versus conservative issue, or it shouldn’t be. The intelligence community should be subject to fair oversight, but it should not be in the position of a political football, which is where it seems to have ended up. Surely, the right-wing hot dogs have some better weeners to roast than these.

Just how far are they willing to go in their short-sighted power games? Is this really what we need House hearings about? Will we have secret files and secret hearings?

Where does this end?

The speculation in California as McCarthy’s endless ballots dragged on was that he had no principles to compromise. If you can’t compromise your principles, what can you compromise? You just compromise, period. Maybe that’s what this is. You just compromise on the truth and end up somewhere in the middle of the turf. But where?

Only time will tell, but the new committee does not bode well. McCarthy indeed, I fear.

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