Things are getting even hotter between Ohio GOP Congressman Jim Jordan’s Judiciary Committee and the Department of Justice’s FBI.
On Friday, Republicans on the Committee called FBI Agent Elvis Chan to testify. The GOP members accuse Chan of being involved with the alleged DOJ effort to censor conservative voices on social media.
Chan voluntarily testified at a closed-door meeting.
But Special Agent Chan also did something slightly unusual in that he brought his personal attorney to the interview to represent his interests. At the same time, an FBI attorney also came to protect Chan and the FBI.
Generally, the agent’s concerns overlap with the FBI’s defense, and only one attorney is needed. Yet, it’s not hard to envision situations in which the FBI — duty bound to protect the Department first — and a witness attorney, duty bound to protect the witness first, might both want to be at a deposition.
For reasons defying understanding, the situation led to a fight. The Committee insisted that Chan could only be represented by one attorney.
As The Washington Post reports:
“Larry Berger, the personal lawyer representing Chan, said the committee insisted Chan could be accompanied by either an FBI lawyer or his personal lawyer, but not both. Berger, a lawyer who has long represented federal agents, said the demand was unusual and not a common practice of congressional committees.”
It is probably worth noting that Berger has represented more clients before Congress than I’ve had hot meals.
So, what’s the problem? At least Biden officials are showing up voluntarily.
Trump occasionally forbade testimony — at least from the White House — from anyone.
Additionally, Trump is currently paying the legal fees for witnesses in his criminal cases, something Jack Smith wants to end.
The second attorney (the FBI attorney) so offended the House Committee that an investigator for the committee figuratively set the room on fire.
The investigator threatened to call Capitol Police to remove an FBI lawyer evidently believing that one lawyer — Berger — was plenty and that the FBI lawyer must have had a nefarious purpose for representing Chan, who is a Department employee.
It makes sense, though. The investigator isn’t after Chan personally. The investigator wants the Department exposed.
Larry Berger, the attorney noted above, is quoted in the report:
“The question is, why do we have this seemingly arbitrary distinction being made by the committee, and why are they interfering with his choice of attorneys?”
My guess is that the FBI is the ultimate target.
Chan, for his part, insisted on having the two attorneys present, in part because he already has lawsuits filed against him stemming from his work with the FBI. That will certainly make one cautious about saying something a plaintiff could use.
But the Committee didn’t back down, and that was when the investigator threatened to call the Capitol Police, which makes very little sense, given that neither Chan nor the FBI lawyer committed a crime.
“[Chan] was at all times ready willing and able to participate in this scheduled voluntary interview.”
Maybe Jim Jordan should look up the definition.
The FBI backed its agent and his right to private counsel and FBI counsel fully, a spokesman for the FBI stated:
“This is a significant departure from normal procedures and an unnecessary escalation of this Committee’s treatment of FBI officials. The FBI employee remains willing to take part in a voluntary interview with appropriate legal representation.”
And yet a spokesman for the Committee, Russel Dye, said that it had been “long-standing Committee practice across Republican and Democrat majorities.”
Dye went on to say:
“The Department of Justice knew exactly what they were doing today by trying to force themselves in the room.”
Of course, they knew what they were doing. They were protecting the Department in an interview in which a guy already named in lawsuits may have to be more careful.
There are other indications of rising tension between the Committee and the FBI, which doesn’t mean the FBI has anything to hide.
The Republican Committee has a long-standing tradition of promising evidence — as if they already have it — and never quite getting around to actually finding the evidence.
Whoever is protecting whatever, and whether it’s normal or not for a person to have two attorneys involved in a voluntary interview, it is not normal for some investigator for a committee to threaten to call the Capitol Police and demand that an FBI attorney be removed or arrested.
The committee, its investigators, and especially Jim Jordan might want to be careful about complaining too loudly.
This column is based on original reporting by Jacqueline Alemany and Devlin Barrett of The Washington Post.
I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @JasonMiciak.
Editor’s note: This is an opinion column that solely reflects the opinions of the author.