House Republicans grapple with cutting DOJ and FBI funding amid growing internal divisions and outside pressure

May 5, 2023, 6:00 AM

The rising sun creeps across the US Capitol dome in November 2022 in Washington, DC. House Republic...

The rising sun creeps across the US Capitol dome in November 2022 in Washington, DC. House Republicans are grappling with cutting DOJ and FBI funding. Photo credit: Samuel Corum/Getty Images.

(CNN) — House Republican leadership came into power on a pro-police, tough-on-crime message. Four months later, that position is in limbo.

The internal differences emerged soon after Republicans took control of the House. In January, an effort to pass a resolution expressing support for law enforcement agencies, which was meant to serve as a messaging tool, fell apart. The House GOP’s behind-the-scenes disagreements reflect growing divisions inside the conference over whether to defund or restrict the Department of Justice and FBI. The contentious political issue is returning to center stage as CNN has learned that some House Republicans are actively sketching out ways to limit certain federal law enforcement programs through the appropriations process.

The sponsor of the January resolution, GOP Rep. Ken Buck of Colorado, a former federal prosecutor, wanted to offer broad support for all levels of law enforcement. But a faction of hard-line members, led by House Judiciary Chair Jim Jordan of Ohio, wanted to restrict it only to state and local authorities, multiple sources told CNN.

“The language that they wanted to incorporate was not something that I could agree to,” said Buck.

Describing the diverging viewpoints over the issue within the House GOP conference, a separate source familiar with the negotiations in January told CNN, “We were starting a big oversight of the FBI, we didn’t want to lock ourselves in here,” referring to the Judiciary committee’s effort to investigate the FBI.

Conversations with more than a dozen lawmakers since the January dust up reveal that a growing number of House Republicans are proposing ways to act on calls made by former President Donald Trump to crack down on federal law enforcement. Support started building after Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home was searched by the FBI in August 2022, as part of an investigation into the handling of presidential documents, including classified documents. And that support to act on the calls was super-charged by Trump’s indictment by the Manhattan District Attorney at the end of March.

This comes as Jordan and the “weaponization” subcommittee he leads have waged a protracted campaign against the DOJ and FBI, and as House Judiciary Republicans are considering recommending various budget cuts to DOJ through the Appropriations process, a source familiar with the plans tells CNN.

One of the cuts House Judiciary Republicans are exploring, which could be proposed as its own legislation or part of a broader House spending package, includes restricting funding to specific DOJ departments that refuse to respond to oversight requests, a source familiar with the discussions tells CNN.

Other proposals include reigning in the ability for DOJ to give out grants, and clawing back civil asset forfeiture funds obtained through a program that allows the federal government to coordinate with state and local officials to seize cash, drugs, guns and other assets from suspects before they have been convicted of a crime, the source added.

CNN has also obtained multiple letters sent by House Republicans to the House Committee on Appropriations that outline specific cuts that could be made to DOJ.

DOJ declined to comment. CNN has reached out to the FBI.

Democrats, meanwhile, are painting any Republicans who voice support for defunding federal law enforcement as hypocritical, just as Republicans were once framing Democrats as the party that wanted to defund the police. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, has said he will introduce a measure condemning Trump’s calls to defund the DOJ, seeking to create a political liability for Republicans.

How the opinions vary across GOP conference

Calls to defund, restructure or decentralize federal law enforcement vary across the House Republican conference, both in degree and specificity. With many moderate Republicans still balking at the idea, and since the conference has yet to reveal its budget, it is unclear if any of these proposals have broad support.

Some lawmakers on the far right such as Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Matt Gaetz of Florida and Paul Gosar of Arizona, have carried Trump’s mantel in calling for a full defund of the FBI.

GOP Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona, who floated the idea of defunding the FBI and DOJ at the Conservative Political Action Conference last year, told CNN, “I would suggest that we look internally at a line item by line-item basis in those two areas, DOJ and FBI, and make them justify everything. Start it out at a 0 basis.”

Buck, meanwhile told CNN, “I will not support any drastic cut in appropriations.”

While Jordan said he wanted to support rank-and-file agents at the FBI, he said vaguely “everything should be on the table” when asked what parts of federal law enforcement need to be cut and referenced a since withdrawn memo from an FBI field office focusing on extremism in the Catholic Church as an example of the kind of actions he believes need to change. Jordan has often argued, without much specificity, the best way to hold DOJ and FBI accountable is through “the power of the purse.”

Some House Republicans, however, are more specific about how to restrict certain activities or restructure certain components.

Rep. Warren Davidson of Ohio, who acknowledged the role Trump has had in swaying members on this issue, told CNN he believes the problem “has less to do with funding and more to do with structure,” and floated an idea of using US Marshals to take over a lot of FBI’s current responsibilities, with “an entirely different law enforcement entity” taking over the bureau’s international aspects.

Rep. Chip Roy of Texas, who serves on the Judiciary Committee, told CNN he does not believe the FBI needs a new headquarters and said he would like federal law enforcement to focus less on domestic terrorism.

“I would like to take it back at a minimum to pre-9/11 to focus on crime and working with local and state jurisdictions to combat crime and not be so much dwelling on the domestic terrorism bit, which they exploited in ways that I don’t think is particularly beneficial,” he said.

Roy was also one of 12 Republicans to send a letter, obtained by CNN, to the Committee on Appropriations in March requesting Congress “prohibit funding” for DOJ to enforce the FACE Act, which protects individuals obtaining an abortion as well as religious freedom.

Twenty-eight House Republicans sent a separate March letter to the Appropriations subpanel that oversees DOJ funding, which was reviewed by CNN, calling for appropriators to prohibit the federal government from taking “any discriminatory action” against an individual who has the “sincerely held religious belief, or moral conviction that marriage is, or should be recognized as, a union of one man and one woman.”

Another effort led by Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana to defund “woke programs” and initiatives across the federal government has included letters to each of the 12 House Appropriations subcommittees in March, and calls for no more funding to certain programs within DOJ that target diversity, equity, inclusion and climate.

Multiple Republicans told CNN that they are looking to Jordan’s “weaponization” subcommittee to outline cuts for the Committee on Appropriations to carry out.

Rep. Byron Donalds of Florida said the “weaponization” subcommittee must “identify and isolate” what types of cuts to the DOJ and FBI need to be made for GOP appropriators to then “take a scalpel and cut them out.”

GOP Rep. Darrell Issa, who serves on Jordan’s weaponization subcommittee, said the subpanel’s job is to “expose” parts of the DOJ and FBI he believes to be hurting freedom of speech for appropriators to take up.

“I think at a minimum, no funds may be used to do ‘X’ are likely to be either in the bill or in amendments, where we specifically deny them certain activities,” the California Republican said. “However, you know, nobody that I know of is talking about defunding these organizations, but defunding programs.”

Another weaponization committee member, Rep. Dan Bishop, acknowledged to CNN that details of what should be defunded, restructured or decentralized still need to be worked out. But the North Carolina Republican said he intends to see reforms take effect “if I do nothing else in Congress.”

“The FBI and the Department of Justice obviously require very substantial reform. Precisely what that is, we’ll see,” Bishop said.

Republicans on the Appropriations committee receiving these requests also present a spectrum of opinions.

Rep. Andrew Clyde of Georgia, who sits on the specific subcommittee that oversees DOJ’s budget, told CNN, “It seems like that one of the few things that three letter agencies listen to is their budget.”

Another one of those appropriators, Rep. Steve Womack of Arkansas — who said he saw some “shortcomings” from DOJ and FBI leadership, but offered support to rank-and-file agents — acknowledged of his Republican colleagues on the right, “I will tell you, I know there are members of our conference that would like a pound of flesh.”

Despite increasing pressure, Appropriations Committee member GOP Rep. Dave Joyce of Ohio said that while things will “take a haircut” as the result of the House GOP’s proposal on the debt ceiling, “in reality, I don’t think there is ever going to be a blanket defund.”

Looking at the process from across the aisle, the top Democrat on Jordan’s select subcommittee, Del. Stacey Plaskett of the US Virgin Islands, told CNN she is worried about the groundwork Republicans on the subcommittee are laying.

“I am concerned about them trying to outline through their conspiracy theories and others going down their rabbit holes that they are making an argument that the FBI is an enemy of the state,” she said. “I’m concerned about they’re trying to fracture rule of law here in the country.”


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House Republicans grapple with cutting DOJ and FBI funding amid growing internal divisions and outside pressure