The rise of Rep. Scott Perry: The most dangerous insurrectionist you've never heard of

How does a Republican congressman from central Pennsylvania — who is currently facing a federal investigation after allegedly spitballing ideas for a "paperwork coup" on behalf of Donald Trump — wind up with a committee seat that could allow him to see open Justice Department files about himself? Meet Rep. Scott Perry, the retired Army National Guard brigadier general who is now one of the most powerful members of Congress. He didn't get there alone.

This article first appeared in Salon.

Last week, a bipartisan group of lawmakers -- including House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, of New York, and Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, of California -- voted unanimously to prevent the Justice Department from accessing Perry's cell phone contents in its wider probe of Donald Trump's 2020 election-subversion efforts.

That's only the latest turn of good luck for the embattled Perry, who's fought the DOJ's effort since the FBI seized his cell phone last August. On Jan. 5, a three-judge appeals court panel -- including two Trump appointees -- put a hold on a lower court's ruling, delaying DOJ access further.

But the House's latest move to back Perry against the DOJ highlights the fact that, unlikely as this may seem, both the far-right House Freedom Caucus he now leads and the Democrats he views as his sworn enemies paved the way for his rise to power.

Sewers to swamps

It seems improbable now that Perry, whose record of wide-swinging claims goes back well before 2020, could have climbed the party ranks so quickly.

Perry once recklessly suggested, on live air, that ISIS was responsible for the 2018 mass shooting in Las Vegas. On another occasion, he accused then-CNN host Chris Cuomo of fabricating the extent of devastation in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria in 2017.

In a 2017 town hall meeting, Perry reportedly once blamed pollution on the almighty. While defending proposed budget cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, Perry criticized the agency's Chesapeake Bay cleanup plans, claiming only certain polluters were targeted while other culprits were unfairly ignored.

"If you are spiritual and you believe in God, one of the violators was God because the forests were providing a certain amount of nitrates and phosphates to the Chesapeake Bay," he said.

That claim, unsurprisingly, was debunked by experts who note that water-side trees provide pollution runoff protection. But his divine deflection may have been less surprising to his constituents.

Perry was running his family's business, Hydrotech Mechanical Services, in 2002 when the company was caught dumping sewage sludge onto the banks of Stony Run Creek in south-central Pennsylvania. The state charged Perry with altering chemical-monitoring documents and he narrowly avoided a felony conviction. Instead, his company paid a $5,000 fine and Perry completed the state's Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition in what he called a "last-minute, at-the-courtroom deal that was never supposed to happen, but it did."

It wouldn't be the last time Perry would face accusations of hiding evidence.

Fireside chats

In the months after Trump's 2020 electoral defeat, former chief of staff Mark Meadows kept his office fireplace well-kindled. The fire was lit first thing in the morning by staff, his former aide testified, then heaped with logs throughout the day. And every so often, Meadows would walk over to his fireplace, remove its covering, and throw a few documents into the fire.

Meadows had been the chair of the House Freedom Caucus until 2019, a post Perry now holds, and the two men knew each other well. Perry had begun having meetings with Meadows that December, the aide said, arriving with physical papers and PowerPoint presentations to discuss former Vice President Mike Pence's role in certifying the 2020 election results — and what Perry "believed could happen on Jan. 6."

Eventually, Perry brought a few others to meet with Meadows, the aide said. With the fireplace lit and a room full of warm bodies, Meadows left his office door propped open. The aide saw Perry and the others inside, and saw Meadows again burning documents.

Perry's spokesman has denied he was ever part of these discussions, citing a Jan. 6 tweet from the congressman condemning the violence at the Capitol. But just hours after the attack, Perry joined other Republicans on the House floor in a failed attempt to prevent his own state's electoral votes from being counted. Perry would then spend months parroting Trump's baseless claims of election theft, arguing that Pennsylvania's 7 million votes should be thrown out.

Ultimately, the same aide who saw Perry leave Meadows' office amid the presumed or apparent destruction of documents would testify that Perry was among several members of Congress who had asked for her help in securing a preemptive presidential pardon. Perry has denied this, although not under oath.

Perry's Democratic hall pass

Eventually, members of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 events developed a clearer picture of Perry's role in Trump's failed bid to overturn the 2020 election results.

In a trove of texts leaked in December 2022, Perry and Meadows' 2020 exchanges surfaced, illuminating an array of schemes and outlandish notions aimed at reversing Trump's defeat. Perry sent YouTube conspiracy-theory videos about election-meddling Italian satellites, asking Meadows why the Italian government couldn't help the group's cause. Perry suggested seizing voting machines with a "cyber forensic team" after the election, and putting them under lock and key.

Perry went on to urge Meadows to get Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen replaced with a Trump-friendly figure in the DOJ, Jeffrey Clark. After Trump ordered Rosen to declare the election corrupt, Rosen refused. Trump responded by threatening to replace Rosen with Clark, who'd concocted a plan to help overturn the election results, but the then-president backed down from after a fiery meeting where several DOJ officials and Trump's own White House counsel, Pat Cipollone, threatened to quit in response. Those exchanges are now part of the reason the DOJ wants access to Perry's cell phone contents.

But back in July of 2022, House Oversight Committee members knew significantly less about Perry's role. They subpoenaed Perry, who responded by denying the legitimacy of the committee he now sits on, and refused to testify.

Perry may have been behind the push to fire Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and replace him with a pro-Trump underling, one of the darkest moments of the coup attempt.

The committee's chair at the time, Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., had the authority to file contempt charges against Perry. But as CNN's Manu Raju reported, Raskin seemed to have "little appetite to refer House Republicans who defy subpoenas to DOJ on contempt charges -- saying it could lead to 'wild goose chases.'

"I don't know that Congress can take a member of Congress to court under the speech or debate clause," Raskin said, referring to Perry's defense that his cell phone conversations were immune from collection. "But our point here is not to come up with, you know, a dozen new dazzling theories to end up in a lot of wild goose chases all over the land."

"Our point is to bring back a report to the American people to Congress about what happened to us," Raskin told Raju.

Rather than facing contempt charges, Perry was referred to the House Ethics Committee, along with other members who refused to obey subpoena orders. But with a Republican majority in the House and Kevin McCarthy holding the speaker's gavel, both the Ethics Committee and the House ethics review office have become partisan chokepoints.

These days, Raskin sees Trump's indictment as imminent.

"We think there will be charges probably on some things we didn't even have, because we don't have all of the prosecutorial resources that the Department of Justice has, and so we think they probably collected a lot more evidence than we got," he told MSNBC on Friday.

Even if Raskin's prediction is correct, Perry's role in Trump's Jan. 6 plans may remain under a shroud of congressional secrecy. The party whose subpoenas he once dodged now, for its own reasons, has Perry's back in his tug-of-war with the DOJ.

On Feb. 23, the DOJ will get its chance to ask an appeals court in Washington for access to Perry's phone contents. House Democratic leaders will once again fight to keep Perry's evidence from coming out at all.

Uncle Joe faces the right-wing zealots: State of the Union 2023 will be a tightrope walk

Facing a Republican-controlled House, a looming partisan budget battle and a swarm of GOP-led investigations, Joe Biden's 2023 State of the Union address looks to be a tightrope walk. Political and ideological tension in a divided Congress has reached a level not seen in many decades — but if White House briefings are any indication, Biden's determined to waltz right over them with an optimistic grin on his dad-visage.

Biden has only just begun his awkward courtship with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, following the latter's week-long torment at the hands of his own party's radicals — but the two are still at the delicate "you show me yours, I'll show you mine" phase of budget talks. Meanwhile, 20 GOP attorneys general are threatening pharmacists who distribute abortion pills under new FDA approvals. And Democrats are mounting a ferocious defense of Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., the "Squad" member who was booted from the House Foreign Affairs Committee on a party-line vote. And that's not to mention the House Oversight Committee's investigative insurgency, targeting the Justice Department's open case files and the president's own son.

Of course we don't know exactly what Biden will say, or how the speech will go over in the chamber. There's still time for Biden's speech to change dramatically. With a Republican response — to be delivered by newly-elected Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, formerly Donald Trump's White House press secretary — expected to hammer him on inflation, can a bit of Biden soft-talk diffuse a debt ceiling showdown? Can he tease high-profile executive action on policing and gun reform without triggering reactionaries on the right? Will another rookie lawmaker's outbursts elicit chamber-wide groans?

Here's everything we know so far — and our best guess at the rest — about the president's upcoming speech.

What will Biden talk about?

SOTU addresses are generally a president's best shot at party pace-setting in the first weeks of a congressional session -- a forum for economic bragging and budget begging, where White House agenda priorities come into focus. Biden is expected to announce some top-line administrative policy changes and do some legislative wishcasting, thereby setting the stage for his likely re-election campaign in 2024. (Don't expect him to announce that decision quite yet.)

Policing and gun control

Police reform and gun control efforts are both stuck in the legislative mud, both nationally and in the statehouses. Biden is facing renewed calls from key Democratic groups to wield executive action on the two issues, where partisan gridlock and gun-lobby dollars have otherwise crippled progress.

With the nation still traumatized by the death of Tyre Nichols at the hands of a Memphis police unit last month, Nichols' parents will attend the State of the Union as guests of Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus. According to Politico, the CBC wants Biden to address police reform directly in his speech.

"They want action," Horsford said of his conversations with the Nichols family. "The action is legislative action; that's here in Congress and at the state and local level, they want executive actions that still can be taken by the president and his administration."

Meanwhile, a coalition of 117 gun safety groups have called on Biden to make good on last year's historic gun reform passage, with real-world implementation announcements. In its Jan. 31 letter to the White House, the Time is Now Coalition asked Biden to enforce the new assault-weapon import ban, boost FTC regulation on gun ads aimed at minors, and appoint a gun czar. The coalition also wants the president to ask Congress for $5 billion in violence prevention funding.

But in a Jan. 24 briefing, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre basically punted the gun issue to Congress, in an almost explicit acknowledgment that major progress is now unlikely. The president "is going to continue to see what other executive actions can be taken from here," Jean-Pierre said. "But at the end of the day, we need Congress to act. We need legislation that can be signed into law."

Keep the aid flowing to Ukraine

At some point this year, Biden will ask Congress to continue funding US aid to Ukraine, as it maintains its ongoing defense against Russian attacks. Ukraine was front and center in Biden's speech last year, and his pledge to continue support for the war effort this year will need to overcome waning Republican support.

The debt-ceiling showdown

A vague post from the White House earlier this month dropped one important hint: Biden's likely to try using the presidential bully pulpit to defuse impending budget brinkmanship.

"He looks forward to speaking with Republicans, Democrats, and the country about how we can work together to continue building an economy that works from the bottom up and the middle out," the White House said in a Jan. 13 release.

Biden's SOTU comes fast on the heels of his meeting with McCarthy last Wednesday, where the two began talks aimed at staving off a potentially disastrous showdown over raising the debt ceiling. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen's Jan. 19 warning that the U.S. had hit its $31.3 trillion borrowing cap was expected, but GOP hardliners in the House are demanding budget cuts before raising that cap. To be clear, the debt ceiling isn't some constitutional requirement. . It's an artificially imposed limit, and since the 1960s lawmakers have raised that limit about 80 times.

With the announcement that Gov. Sanders would deliver the GOP response from Little Rock, the top two Republicans in Congress — McCarthy and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell — signaled key phrases we're likely to hear from her: inflation, surging crime, border crisis, failing schools.

When is the State of the Union address?

Biden will address both chambers of Congress in a joint session on Feb. 7, beginning at 9 p.m. ET in the House chamber. McCarthy will gavel in the session and join Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, in her capacity as Senate president, on the House dais.

SOTU speeches usually last about an hour, although presidential winds have trended longer. Former President Bill Clinton holds the records for both the longest and second-longest recorded addresses, in 2000 (one hour, 29 minutes) and 1995 (1:25) respectively, according to UC Santa Barbara research. Richard Nixon went the other direction in 1972, wrapping it all up in just 28 minutes. Recording technology was unavailable for George Washington's 1790 address, but its text ran just 1,089 words — shorter than this article.

How to watch

Essentially every TV news network will broadcast the address live, including ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, MSNBC and Fox News. CNN viewers won't need a login to watch. All those networks will also stream the speech on their websites and through the apps available on Roku, FireTV, Android TV, Apple TV and similar devices or streaming services.

Easiest of all, though, is the White House YouTube channel, with ASL interpretation available. Keep an eye on the White House Facebook and Twitter accounts for a fresh link on the day of the speech.

The laptop from hell and other stories: Your guide to 2023 congressional investigations

With control of Congress split between Senate Democrats and House Republicans, near-total legislative gridlock is almost certain to halt movement on the keystone issues of both parties. Indeed, battles over bills will likely be just the background to a tide of aggressive investigations led by House Republicans into the Justice Department and key figures in Joe Biden's administration. Exactly what the political fallout of these investigations will be — and who will benefit most — are key questions as high-profile hearings will command media attention ahead of the 2024 election.

The Biden administration has been gearing up for the GOP's promised investigations at least since May, when presumed GOP targets like the Department of Homeland Security began a process that might be described as legal waterproofing. After recruiting a slate of veteran white-collar lawyers and former political advisers, Biden officials built the administration's response strategy last summer in a series of meetings.

Democrats will meet this investigative onslaught with essentially the same playbook Republicans used to defend Donald Trump and his coterie, ironically enough — along with a battery of legal defenses meant to guard against overly broad demands for Justice Department intelligence. Democrats also know first-hand how hard it is to turn investigative findings into a pair of handcuffs. That experience, some argue, may offer Democrats the advantage in landing a balance of public favor.

Recent pundit chatter suggests Democrats are hoping that GOP investigative overreach will be a publicity boon. They're betting that voters grow impatient while watching a fractured GOP with a razor-thin House majority flounder to fulfill any of its legislative stump promises. Some White House aides and allies have suggested that the far-right flavor of House investigative committees is a "political gift."

But it seems at least as likely that House Republicans can score more political points wielding the gavel than Democrats can in defending themselves from it. The Biden administration is already on the back foot, seeking to fend off what it views as unnecessary requests for overly sensitive information, with a flood of congressional requests and subpoenas certain to follow.

GOP committee chairs hope to yank the leashes of executive branch officials before the cameras, delighting the most extreme members of their base with a spectacle of Democratic humiliation. Government science and health officials will likely be compelled to appear on Capitol Hill to address a range of unsubstantiated conspiracy theories on COVID and other hot topics.

Congressional investigations — replete with camera-savvy grandstanding antics — are the hallmark of divided government, as well as a time-tested ax for chipping away at presidential approval ratings. Republicans are betting their stagecraft will outweigh the fact that their investigations will almost certainly have no legal effect.

Republicans' investigative wish list is sprawling, but may grow narrower as their committees stretch themselves thin. Here's a full breakdown of the House's new investigative powers and committees, along with a list of current and proposed investigations where the GOP hopes to flex its authority for the cameras.

New rules: What's different in the GOP House

Passage of the new House Rules for the 118th Congress, in a 220-213 vote, marked Speaker Kevin McCarthy's first legislative victory. The rules are expected to encourage protracted and performative committee hearings, while increasing the chances of partisan budget standoffs in both chambers. They increase House committees' investigative authority at the expense of minority-party members and the integrity of ongoing criminal cases, and expand bill-markup privileges, allowing members to target individual political opponents and federal programs.

Republicans are betting that TV stagecraft will carry more political weight than the fact that their so-called investigations are pointless and ineffectual.

New rules laid out in the 55-page document grant the chamber greater control over spending and tax bills, while giving the House GOP a new potential cudgel against the agencies and programs they investigate. The most high-profile rule change dramatically weakens the speakership by allowing any single member to call a motion to "vacate the chair" (previously, five members were required).

The long-standing "Gephardt Rule" was struck down, which could force a direct vote on lifting the debt ceiling — setting the stage for a potential 2011-esque standoff with Senate Democrats. Brinkmanship chances may increase the most thanks to new rules aimed at slowing down budget approval for bills that are normally hand-waved through — like those used to keep Social Security functioning. Bills reauthorizing such mandatory spending increases are blocked in the new rules, as is any spending bill that would lay out more than $2.5 billion within four years. However, spending cuts can now be bundled together and voted on as a package

Short-term spending items in a budget must be voted on individually before their funding is increased. Income tax increases now require a three-fifths vote to pass the House, and any bill that has a big impact on the economy has to include an inflation-impact estimate. One bipartisan "good government" rule requires bills to be posted at least 72 hours before the chamber takes a vote on them.

While the House expanded committee investigative privilege, any committees seeking to enforce subpoenas or compel criminal investigations will still face Democratic pushback in the Senate and White House.

The most prominent threat to the executive branch and Biden administration comes with the revival of the Holman Rule, which allows Congress to vote on cutting specific employees' salaries or positions within a federal agency. Another rule gives more authority to the already powerful House Oversight and Accountability Committee. All committees tasked with overseeing a federal program's budget will now be required to provide the Oversight Committee with a formidable stack of paperwork on its programs — and the threshold for recommending a program's termination has been lowered.

House committees — especially select committees — already have the authority to exercise a range of investigative powers, but newly reintroduced rules tighten the majority party's grip on the committees and restrict the minority party involvement. (It's entirely possible Republicans will live to regret these rules two years hence.) Reinforced by the threat of a potentially disastrous government shutdown or a possible default on government debt, this is what House committees' investigative powers now look like.

How will the House rules impact investigations?

Getting it on the record — Unlike congressional subpoena powers, House rules on committee interview and information requests are largely unchanged in 2023. Before it issues a subpoena, a House committee can try two less aggressive routes to gather evidence. Any member can issue a request for information to an individual, whose response is voluntary. Then a House committee can request an interview, with response again voluntary, although perceived political interest often compels witnesses to comply. Interviews are less formal than a full deposition, and are usually held in private — and committees can still allow staff to lead witness interviews either remotely or in person.

No more seven-member rule — Previously, any seven members of the Oversight Committee, regardless of party, could issue a subpoena to compel witness depositions or other evidence. Now, the committee's chair must be included among those seven members. In the current Congress, this obviously restrains Democrats' power.

Staff deposition powers, limited attendance — Republicans will keep a previous Democratic rule that allowed congressional staff to take depositions without a committee member present. The rule also now limits persons who can attend depositions to members, committee staffers, an official reporter, the witness and no more than two attorneys.

Higher-profile hearings — More in-person testimony is expected during congressional hearings, as a new rule restricts the circumstances under which committee chairs can allow witnesses to testify remotely. This rule seems to apply only to non-governmental witnesses. The GOP has also kept a Democratic rule that allows the committee to overrule objections made by a witness' lawyer and compel a witness to answer or be charged with contempt. Committee members can still appeal this move.

Executive branch referral — Congress can still refer its investigatory findings to the executive branch for criminal prosecution through the Justice Department. But the executive branch still has the power to decide whether to prosecute or not.

What happens if you ignore a congressional subpoena?

If a person fails to comply with a congressional subpoena, they could face contempt charges, although the consequences are rarely serious. Those come in three varieties.

Inherent contempt — If a person ignores a subpoena from a House committee, the House can pass a resolution holding that person in contempt and then conduct a full trial, along with a debate. If the person is found guilty, Congress can impose its own punishment -- including having the chamber's sergeant-at-arms find the person and arrest them.

Civil contempt — Formally known as civil enforcement, this option allows the House to enforce a subpoena by either having the House general counsel file a suit in federal court, or asking a federal judge to order the witness to comply.

Criminal contempt — Failure to comply with a subpoena is a misdemeanor that can result in imprisonment or fines, although such outcomes are rare. The House can approve a contempt citation and refer it to the attorney general for possible prosecution. With the DOJ currently overloaded with hundreds of Jan. 6 cases and the discovery of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, the odds don't favor the additional use of resources for congressional investigations. Notably, criminal contempt charges — like those on which former White House adviser Steve Bannon was convicted — take a notoriously long time to yield results.

What are the House's investigative committees?

There are eight key committees to watch so far. Among those, the three new investigative bodies worth keeping an eye on are the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government, the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic, and the Select Committee on the Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party. But shake-ups in five other standing committees foreshadow more House brawls ahead.

Judiciary Committee — Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, has already pledged that his committee will investigate the Justice Department as he dives into a slate of Biden administration affairs. His requests to the DOJ have already begun with the first indications of the department's response coming late last week.

  • Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government — Jordan will also chair this new and highly-publicized panel, which has been authorized to "investigate the investigators," especially the ongoing criminal probes of Donald Trump and his inner circle. Critically, the subcommittee is allowed to receive potentially sensitive information from the House Intelligence Committee — whose members have special security clearances —and its members do not have to serve on the actual Judiciary committee. Federal agencies are expected to push back on information requests made by the panel. Committee member Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., has also said he wants the committee to investigate the White House's interactions with Twitter.

Oversight and Accountability Committee — Chairman James Comer, R-Ky., will be able to issue subpoenas unilaterally in his role over this powerful committee. The first hint of its new aggressive posture came with a name change (it was previously the Oversight and Reform Committee). Comer has repeatedly promised to go after the Biden administration and its federal agencies with what he calls an "all-star lineup." And indeed, the committee's GOP members include such MAGA bold-face names as Arizona Rep. Andy Biggs, Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert, Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Pennsylvania Rep. Scott Perry.

  • Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic — Chaired by Brad Wenstrup of Ohio, the new panel is likely to dive into pandemic relief fund fraud but may also reinvestigate the origins of COVID-19. (Why that's important to Congress at this late date is not clear.) Although this select committee is technically under the Oversight and Accountability Committee, the speaker chooses its membership, as with the Government Weaponization panel. Members will be able to ask questions for more than the usual five minutes, and staff will be able to question witnesses in hearings. Its final report is due by Jan. 2, 2025 (the last day of this Congress).

The new subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government appears to be calibrated to siphon sensitive information away from the Intelligence Committee, whose members have special security clearances.

Select Committee on the Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party — Chaired by Wisconsin Rep. Mike Gallagher, the new panel with an unwieldy out-of-the-past name was created in the rules package and in its own separate resolution. Gallagher is noted for his bipartisan efforts to establish the committee in the previous Congress under then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who will herself sit on this new committee along with Democratic Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York. McGovern's position as chair of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China is expected to add sobriety to the committee's approach.

Foreign Affairs Committee — Chairing this already powerful committee, Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas will have the authority to oversee the Department of State and any investigations from other committees the involve foreign policy. That could include having influence over the Select Committee on China. Rep. Scott Perry, the Freedom Caucus chair, also sits on this committee.

Homeland Security Committee — Freedom Caucus member Mark Green, R-Tenn., is likely to step into a high-profile role as he takes on the chairmanship of this committee. Migration issues at the southern border are prompting a suite of early bills in the House. Far-right members want to depose Homeland Security head Alejandro Mayorkas, with resolutions demanding his impeachment already filed in the House. ]

Ethics Committee — Rep. Michael Guest, R-Miss., will chair the committee. While not new, recent rule changes order the Ethics Committee to begin taking complaints directly from the public. The move may offer lawmakers a potential end-run around the Office of Congressional Ethics (which vets and refers ethics complaints to the Ethics Committee). As the OCE faces calls to investigate Congress members over the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, its eight-member board has been largely gutted by a new rule imposing term-limit caps that would immediately force out three Democrats — and another new rule requiring four OCE board members to approve the new appointee.

What are the current House GOP investigations?

The GOP is expected to investigate a host of topics in short order: Biden's border policies, the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, the origins of COVID-19, cryptocurrency scams and diversity recruiting efforts in the military. Currently, three investigations have commenced in earnest, with chairmen publicly discussing early plans on collection of evidence.

The Justice Department and FBI — Jordan has previously signaled that the Government Weaponization panel plans to go after the FBI and DOJ in what Democrats believe will be an effort to see what cards the agencies hold in their own criminal investigations into Trump. Jordan released a roadmap of the committee's agenda (spanning more than 1,000 pages) but said in recent days that the committee will first investigate what he believes was the FBI's attempt to target parents who criticized school board members.

Rep. Jim Comer says there are no plans to subpoena Joe Biden "right now," perhaps because the entire point of the Hunter Biden probe is to torment him.

Hunter Biden — Comer's Oversight and Accountability Committee will take on a whole range of topics around Hunter Biden, which Comer told CNN would start immediately. Comer said there are no plans "right now" to subpoena the president himself, but that the committee would bring in witnesses for interviews and request bank records from the president's long-troubled son. Hunter Biden is facing a federal investigation over tax violations but hasn't been charged with a crime. Comer's panel will also be investigate any links between the president and his son, and is clearly eager to pursue the rumors that Joe Biden somehow profited from or meddled in his son's overseas business deals.

Biden's classified documents — On Jan. 13, Justice Committee chair Jordan announced the panel would investigate Joe Biden's handling of classified documents, sending a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland requesting files related to the DOJ's findings on the president. The committee also asked for documents related to Garland's appointment of special counsel Richard Hur. Under the authority of the Oversight and Accountability Committee, Comer sent his own request to the DOJ, asking for more details on what the documents contain.

Human rights group: Court proceedings reveal MBS paid Trump 'millions in the past two years'

A human rights organization founded by slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi is calling on Congress and the Justice Department to investigate former President Donald Trump's business deals with a controversial golf company owned by the Saudi Arabian government and controlled by Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman.

Nonprofit Democracy for the Arab World Now said LIV Golf, a tournament franchise and PGA Golf rival, paid Trump-owned golf resorts "unknown millions of dollars" to host events. Recent court proceedings revealed that Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund -- chaired by bin Salman -- owns 93% of LIV Golf, and pays "100 percent of the costs associated with the events."

"The revelation that a fund controlled by Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman actually owns almost all of LIV Golf means that MBS has been paying Donald Trump unknown millions for the past two years, via their mutual corporate covers," said DAWN Executive Director Sarah Leah Whitson in a Sunday statement.

"If Trump or his agents discussed any deals with LIV Golf or PIF while Trump was still in office, a criminal investigation would also be in order because federal law strictly prohibits this sort of business dealing by sitting federal officials with foreign governments."

DAWN pointed to previous PIF investments in Trump-adjacent business dealings which have drawn scrutiny over potential ethics law violations -- including PIF's $2 billion investment in Affinity Partners, the hedge fund owned by Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, and a $1 billion PIF investment in a private equity fund owned by former Trump Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

"The Justice Department and Congress have a responsibility to investigate exactly when and to whom and under what terms Trump has obtained unknown millions from Saudi government coffers controlled by Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman, which may well violate even our existing, weak ethics laws," said Whitson.

"Given that Trump is also planning to run again for president, his business ties to Mohamed bin Salman are a national security emergency."

McCarthy backs Santos as new reports raise alarm about campaign funds and link to 'Ponzi scheme'

Newly seated Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., worked for finance company Harbor City Capital which — before it shut down amid scandal — the Securities Exchange Commission described as a "classic Ponzi scheme." And, according to court-appointed lawyers now investigating the former company's assets, Santos received income from that company in April 2021 — at least a month longer than he claimed in his campaign filings and disclosures.

Meanwhile, large-sum donors to a Santos-linked fundraising group are raising alarms over missing records. But House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., still backs the embattled congressman amid mounting formal inquiries and calls for Santos' resignation.

The latest information about the timing of Santos' reported income offers investigators a closer look as they follow an increasingly suspicious paper trail. As reported by the Washington Post, Santos' final Harbor Capital income in April 2021 came about a month before Santos and former Harbor City CFO DeVaughn Dames registered Santos' mysteriously and suddenly profitable company, Devolder, in May 2021. Santos received a $750,000 salary plus $1 million in dividends from Devolder through 2021, and claimed to have lent his campaign $705,000 — including more than 800 suspiciously receiptless expenses under $200, the Federal Election Commission's disclosure-requirement threshold.

Per The New York Times, Devolder's May registration came about seven months before Devolder and Jayson Benoit — another former Harbor City colleague of Santos' — were listed as managing officers in the November 2021 registration of nonprofit fundraising outfit RedStone Strategies. RedStone's donors included the state PAC, Rise NY, run by the congressman's sister, Tiffany Santos. Now, former large-sum RedStone donors want to know where their Santos campaign donations went.

When CNN's Kristin Wilson approached Santos, the congressman said he would resign "if 142 people ask me to resign."

The number went unexplained. It would require two-thirds of the House's 435 members to vote to remove a sitting member — 290 when the House is fully seated.

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But by noon EST, the congressman clarified to reporters that he has no plans to resign.

McCarthy told CNN that, for now, Santos "will continue to serve."

"There is a concern. He has to go through the ethics (complaint process). We'll let him move through that but -- right now -- the voters have a voice in the decision," McCarthy said.

In a Thursday morning press conference, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., called Santos "a complete and total fraud." Per reporting from Politico's Nicholas Wu, Jeffries said it was up to the GOP "to do something about it."

"The spectacle that is George Santos speaks for itself," Jeffries said. "This is an issue that Republicans need to handle. Clean up your house."

Santos is also still wanted in Brazil for, as he admitted, stealing another man's checkbook from his own mother -- then using the stolen checks to buy himself a new wardrobe in 2008.

'He broke the law by lying': Santos hit with FEC complaint over mysterious $705K campaign loan

Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., is facing a Federal Election Commission complaint less than a week after being sworn into Congress.

The Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit watchdog group, accused Santos of lying about the source of his campaign donations and paying for personal expenses with campaign funds in a 50-page complaint filed Monday. The group pointed to the $705,000 Santos declared in FEC filings as a personal loan to his campaign. The CLC argued that Santos couldn't have afforded such a loan given his previous income disclosures.

"It is far more likely, instead, that after failing to win his 2020 bid for Congress, Santos and other unknown persons worked out a scheme to surreptitiously -- and illegally -- funnel money into his 2022 campaign," the complaint said. "Straw donor contributions like those alleged here are serious violations of federal campaign finance law that have led to criminal indictments and convictions in recent years."

"The Commission should thoroughly investigate what appear to be equally brazen lies about how his campaign raised and spent money."

Saurav Ghosh, CLC's director of campaign finance reform — and a former FEC enforcement attorney — blasted Santos Monday in a tweet.

"George Santos has lied about virtually every aspect of his life, and it appears he broke the law by lying about where he got $705,000 for his campaign," Ghosh wrote.

The Monday complaint comes less than a week after the FEC flagged Santos' fundraising committee filings, per CNN. In a Jan. 5 letter, the commission dinged Santos' statements over missing donor information and contribution amounts exceeding legal limits. The commission has requested Santos' office reply by Feb. 8.

In its Monday filing, the CLC also drew attention to the dozens of suspiciously low-value campaign contributions unearthed previously in the press.

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The FEC requires candidates to provide a receipt, invoice or canceled check for personal campaign reimbursements of $200 or more. In December, The New York Times revealed that Santos filed 37 personal reimbursements listed as $199.99 each. The 37 penny-short expenses in Santos' campaign finance reports were just a slice of the more than 800 items expensed under the FEC's $200 threshold.

"The sheer number of these just-under-$200 disbursements is implausible, and some payments appear to be impossible given the nature of the item or service covered. Accordingly, there is reason to believe Santos's campaign deliberately falsified its disbursement reporting, among numerous other reporting violations," the CLC said in its Monday complaint.

Meanwhile, federal prosecutors in New York are also investigating Santos' personal finances, including the $705,000 in personal loans he made to his 2022 campaign. That campaign war chest ultimately totaled more than $3 million after help from four fundraising committees.

"Voters deserve the truth. They have a right to know who is spending to influence their vote and their government and they have a right to know how the candidates competing for their vote are spending those funds," CLC Senior VP and Legal Director Adav Noti said in a public statement Monday. "George Santos has lied to voters about a lot of things, but while lying about your background might not be illegal, deceiving voters about your campaign's funding and spending is a serious violation of federal law."

Santos' office declined Salon's request for comment.

'Shameful': Democrats sound alarm over 'creepy' dark-money super PAC deal to help McCarthy win

After losing six brutal rounds of votes, the prospects of winning House speakership seemed all but dead for House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy. But amid negotiations between GOP leadership and MAGA holdouts on Wednesday, a Republican super PAC and a conservative nonprofit brokered a deal that may boost the California Republican's chances of securing the 218 votes he needs to lead the chamber.

The Congressional Leadership Fund, a McCarthy-linked PAC, and the Club for Growth, the nonprofit behind McCarthy's hard-right detractors, have been at odds over the speaker nomination and a litany of issues. The CFG doesn't want the CLF to primary any of its preferred Republican incumbents. The CFG's other demands included putting more hard-right lawmakers into leadership posts, and offering line-item votes on spending bills.

The CLF agreed, announcing it wouldn't spend money in any open-seat primaries in safely Republican districts, nor funnel money to other super PACs for that purpose.

In a Wednesday night statement from both groups, CLF President Dan Conston gave his nod.

"CLF has never spent a dollar against a Republican incumbent before and obviously will continue that policy in the future," Conston said. "CLF will continue to support incumbents in primaries as well as challengers in districts that affect the Majority, which proved to be critical to winning the Majority in 2022."

McCarthy crowed to reporters in a moment captured by Fox News' Chad Pergram.

"You know what I saw on TV today? 'Oh, this has to be a day that Kevin gets movement.' So let's measure it: You've got the Club for Growth. You see that? Is that movement in your view?," he said.

The pact accompanies a handful of other late-night concessions of the McCarthy camp to the House's right-wing GOP faction.

The latest offers include adding two Freedom Caucus members to the powerful House Rules Committee (with hints at a third spot for a non-caucus conservative), allowing line-item votes in budget bills, holding a vote on constitutional term limits, and allowing any single House member to call for a vote to oust the speaker. The latter is down from the previously offered five-member motion requirement.

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The suite of concessions is the second offering laid at the feet of the 20-or-so members who've so far stymied the majority leader's every bid for speaker. The first concessions came at the start of the week, when the McCarthy camp unveiled the proposed new House Rules package. One jaw-dropping inclusion grabbed headlines by proposing the near-total gutting of the chamber's non-partisan ethics watchdog, the Office of Congressional Ethics.

In exchange, the CFG agreed to ding the annual scorecards of any House member who voted against McCarthy.

"This agreement on super PAC's fulfills a major concern we have pressed for," CFG President David McIntosh said in the joint statement. "We understand that Leader McCarthy and Members are working on a rules agreement that will meet the principles we have set out previously. Assuming these principles are met, Club for Growth will support Kevin McCarthy for Speaker."

Former House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who remains a member of the House, called the deal "shameful."

"That's really not in the spirit of the code of conduct for members of Congress. And so that is something that they should be more ethical about what they are doing," she said.

Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, called the deal "creepy."

"It is creepy that dark money super pacs are explicitly part of the negotiation regarding who becomes Speaker of the United States House," he said in a Wednesday tweet.

The New York Times' Ken Vogel also raised questions about the "backroom deal," noting it may run afoul of super PAC coordination rules since "it was intended to influence particular (albeit still unspecified) congressional races" and "likely required sign-off" from McCarthy or his team.

The CLF and CFG denied any illicit coordination in a perfunctory footnote of their statement: "No one in Congress or their staff has directed or suggested CLF take any action here."

McCarthy suffers historic humiliation in House speaker vote — is Steve Scalise up next?

It's been exactly 100 years since the House of Representatives failed to elect a speaker on the first chamber vote. So much for precedent. On Tuesday, members of the incoming Republican House majority couldn't elect a speaker after three full rounds of voting, marking a historic humiliation for Rep. Kevin McCarthy, of California, the House GOP leader and to this point the only plausible candidate.

The last time the speaker's contest required more than one ballot was in 1923, when it took lawmakers nine ballots to seat Rep. Frederick Gillett of Massachusetts. As NBC News' Allan Smith pointed out Tuesday, contentious speakership elections aren't unheard of. Even the GOP's meltdown on Tuesday is no match for the most brutal race for speaker, which spanned two months and 122 votes, with House control ultimately landing in the hands of the Know-Nothing Party in 1856.

Members are presumably poised for a fourth vote when the return to the Capitol Wednesday and make another effort to launch the 118th session of Congress. Although there's speculation McCarthy may be forced to withdraw, he vowed Tuesday to continue his fight for the speaker's gavel.

"We may have a battle on the floor, but the battle is for the conference and the country," McCarthy said ahead of the vote.

House Democrats, on the other hand, voted unanimously all three times on Tuesday to elect Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the party's new congressional leader. Jeffries actually finished ahead of McCarthy in all three votes, but there is no plausible scenario in which he ends up winning.

With an evident rupture in the Republican Party and the House adjourned until Wednesday, eyes on the Hill may now turn to the House GOP's second-in-command, Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, a staunch conservative who may be acceptable to the McCarthy skeptics.

In the first two rounds, McCarthy managing to get just 203 of the 218 votes he needed for a majority, with 19 Republican members voting for other candidates. But the dynamics were slightly different each time. Prompted by McCarthy's first-round failure — and the challenge from former Freedom Caucus leader Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona, who got 10 votes — Freedom Caucus member and staunch Trump ally Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio rose to call for party-wide McCarthy support.

"We have to rally around him, come together," Jordan said.

That move seemed to backfire after another controversial Freedom Caucus member, Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, rose to nominate Jordan himself, who received six votes in the first round and went on to receive all 19 of the anti-McCarthy GOP votes in the second round.

"Maybe the right person isn't someone who hasn't sold shares of himself to get it," Gaetz said, in an obvious dig at McCarthy's years-long campaign to become speaker.

The McCarthy backlash among handful of far-right GOP members came on the heels of a reportedly raucous closed-door caucus meeting between McCarthy and the conservative faction. Remarks from Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., early in the day hinted that there might be rough sailing ahead.

"Everybody knew this would be going on and we're going to work through it," Scalise told reporters, according to The Washington Post.

Before the third round of votes, as rumors spread that McCarthy support was trickling away, Scalise took up Jordan's pleas, begging House members to line up behind McCarthy. There was noo Freedom Caucus nomination of Scalise, but Jordan gained one vote (from Rep. Byron Donalds of Florida), receiving 20 votes in the third round to McCarthy's 202.

"We all came here to get things done, big things done," Scalise said Tuesday. "We can't start fixing these problems until we elect Kevin McCarthy speaker."

To this point, Scalise has openly backed McCarthy's bid and avoided any conversations or public remarks about a potential campaign of his own. That hasn't stopped him from being floated as a potential candidate if McCarthy eventually decides to drop out.

Scalise controls a well-known Beltway fundraising machine, has formidable vote-whipping experience and ultra-conservative policies, which would seem to position him favorably among most of the GOP's warring factions. (There may be a few moderates who dislike him, but their power is inconsequential.) He would also an obvious choice for Republicans eager to avoid a prolonged and embarrassing public battle.

In November, Fox News' Jacqui Heinrich teased the prospect of a Scalise bid on Twitter.

"I would say it is a fair description to say that Steve Scalise could step up and possibly run for Speaker of the House," La Politics Weekly editor Jeremy Alford told Radio New Orleans last year.

Asked by reporters whether he would support a Scalise bid if his own fell short, McCarthy reportedly just laughed and kept walking.

With the Republican Party's disarray on spectacular display late Tuesday, Freedom Caucus members began throwing in the towel for the day. Congress will reconvene at 12 noon Eastern time on Wednesday. Whether it can actually elect a speaker remains to be seen.