Wyoming U.S. Rep. Harriet Hageman told Cowboy State Daily on Friday morning she is appalled by what she sees as the federal government suppressing free speech and surveillance on citizens.
Hageman is an at-large member of the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government, a panel established to investigate alleged abuses of federal authority, including collusion between federal agencies and social media companies to suppress conservative viewpoints.
Hageman, a freshman congresswoman, was already familiar with these issues before joining the subcommittee, frequently bringing them up during her 2022 campaign.
Addressing these issues was a point of emphasis made by many Republicans during the 2022 elections nationwide. In their negotiations with California Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, hardline conservatives in the U.S. House were able to seek a commitment from McCarthy to establish the Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government.
What Will It Do?
Hageman said the bipartisan panel plans to discuss a wide gamut of topics including potential First Amendment violations, possible violations of the Fourth Amendment through government surveillance, due process considerations and equal protection issues. The first two subcommittee meetings focused on the relationship between the First Amendment and government surveillance.
“I’m hoping to use the skills that I’ve developed over the last 30-plus years as a trial attorney and as a constitutional attorney to delve in to what has been going on with these agencies and ultimately making it so they cannot persecute or prosecute the great citizens of this country the way they have been,” she said.
Hageman said the FBI and Department of Justice (DOJ) have been weaponized against Americans in recent years. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and lead-up to the 2020 presidential election, these entities were actively involved in trying to regulate what they believed was misinformation being spread on those topics.
“As someone who believes strongly in the Constitution and as a constitutional attorney, I am going to do everything in my power to make sure these agencies cannot engage in that kind of behavior again,” Hageman said. “We’ll need to do that through legislation of some sort.”
Hageman said the most substantial action the subcommittee can take is drafting legislation to combat government censorship and targeting of private citizens.
“To make sure that our government does not continue to do the kinds of things it has been doing in the recent past,” she said. “I am hoping and am hopeful that this committee is going to expose some things that this country is entitled to learn about and find out what their government is doing.”
She said the subcommittee is in its “fact-finding” stage at the moment, bringing information to light she believes the public needs to be aware of.
Hageman said she was deeply disturbed by actions the FBI and DOJ took when the agencies contacted private social media companies like Twitter to complain about what citizens were posting on the platforms. Hageman cited this as evidence of “rot” within these agencies.
“The government cannot do by proxy what it cannot do directly,” she said.
The first meeting of the subcommittee focused on “the politicization of the FBI and DOJ and attacks on American civil liberties,” with testimony Hageman described as “chilling.”
During the subcommittee’s second meeting earlier this month, it received testimony from Matt Taibbi and Michael Shellenberger, two of the journalists who released parts of the “Twitter Files.”
“It was stunning what they found,” Hageman said.
The ninth chapter of the Twitter Files relates to the CIA and FBI’s alleged involvement in Twitter content moderation on rhetoric some believed to be misinforming and not conforming with the company’s terms of service. Hageman described this conduct as an “unlawful” use of authority to police a private company’s policies. Taibbi said these federal agencies were actively looking for people who violated Twitter policies.
Hageman told Cowboy State Daily she sees these governmental actions as a “classic violation of the First Amendment,” which she said is substantially broader than Twitter’s terms of service.
“At no time does the FBI or DOJ ever claim that people either engaging with social media, Facebook, with Twitter … or the parents attending these school board meetings and challenging what is being taught to their children, challenging the transgender issues, at no time does the FBI or DOJ claim the citizens are acting unlawfully, that the tweets are unlawful, that the person who sent or posted them is engaging in illegal behavior,” Hageman said. “It is that they don’t like their viewpoint.”
Hageman also mentioned the House Judiciary Committee’s new report that local law enforcement found “no legitimate basis” for a memo sent by Attorney General Merrick Garland in 2021 to the FBI and federal prosecutors about what he believed were threats to school boards around the country. Garland directed the FBI to hold meetings across the country and bring together government leaders to discuss strategies to address those threats.
The Judiciary report, spearheaded by Ohio Republican Jim Jordan, comes as Republicans have accused President Joe Biden’s administration of targeting conservative speech at school board meetings.
In September 2022, a federal judge threw out a lawsuit from parents accusing Garland of stifling their free speech. The judge said the group misunderstood the memo addressing increased harassment against schools.
Democrats have criticized the recent House GOP report, saying it lacks evidence to back up its claims.
“Jim Jordan has cherry picked a few sentences from hundreds of pages of documents to manufacture a book report on a debunked conspiracy theory,” Democratic Rep. Jim Nadler said. “As with all of his recent work, he has produced little or no new evidence to support his claims.”
On Friday, Hageman voted in support of the Parental Bill of Rights Act, which would require school districts to post curriculum information publicly, provide parents a list of books and materials available in their libraries, allow parents to address their school board, and require parental consent before any medical exam or screening, among other requirements. The bill passed with a 213-208 vote in the House.
“Parents have every right to know what their children are being taught, what information they are given, and how schools are spending our tax dollars,” Hageman said in a Friday morning press release.
One particular target for Hageman has been Anthony Fauci, former director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases from 1984 to 2022, and the chief medical advisor to Biden from 2021 to 2022.
Hageman said the subcommittee will likely focus at least some attention on Fauci in the coming months, who she believed failed in his duties during the pandemic.
“We need to be sure that people like Anthony Fauci can no longer be weaponized against us,” she said.
In a PBS documentary released on Tuesday, Fauci said he should have asked Americans to adopt masks sooner and order quarantines faster during the pandemic.
Fauci is a major proponent of the use of facemasks in alleviating the spread of the virus.
Louisiana and Missouri filed a lawsuit against the federal government and the Biden Administration for colluding with social media companies to censor speech regarding COVID-19 during the pandemic. In November 2022, Fauci was deposed on the matter.
Many social media companies like Facebook and Twitter censored posts that the companies believed to be false and contributed to the spread of misinformation pertaining to COVID-19 and vaccines.
“You have a federal agency that was engaging with private corporations to suppress information in our country,” Hageman said. “The scope of it, the breadth of it, the nature of it, is truly unrivaled in the history of the United States of America.”
Fauci also said on NBC’s Meet The Press in 2022 he has “a completely open mind” when it comes to the origins of the COVID-19 virus.
But former Centers For Disease Control Director Robert Redfield told a congressional committee earlier this month that Fauci and former National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins froze him out of discussions on Covid-19’s origins.
In early 2020, Fauci promoted the view that an infected animal spread the virus to humans.
“That was the first effort on Fauci’s part, that we’ve got to stop that information from getting out there,” Hageman said. “There was an all-hands on deck approach using millions of dollars of tax money to prevent us from learning about the origin of that virus.”
New evidence has surfaced recently giving some legitimacy to the possibility the virus could have originated from a Wuhan, China lab leak, although the majority of other evidence still points to it spreading through animals being sold at a crowded Wuhan market.
Hageman said potential solutions to reducing government overreach could include reducing the NIH’s role in dictating policy on future health matters. She said individual states should have much more jurisdiction on these issues and considers herself an advocate for taking power away from the federal government.
“I’m not a person that believes in centralized government,” she said. “Under our Constitution the federal government was never supposed to be what it is today. The federal government is a government of limited jurisdiction and authority.”
Jan. 6 Commission Parallels
Some have criticized the Subcommittee on Weaponization of the Federal Government as being a direct answer to the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol. Hageman’s former Republican opponent congresswoman Liz Cheney was the vice chair of the Jan. 6 committee.
Hageman doesn’t agree there is any connection between the two.
“The Jan. 6 Committee was looking at one day and perhaps some activities leading up to Jan. 6,” Hageman said. “They made very clear from the beginning what they intended to do.”
Hageman believes the Jan. 6 Committee was agenda-driven on the goal of preventing former President Donald Trump from ever serving again as president. Trump endorsed Hageman’s 2022 campaign and she endorsed his 2024 presidential campaign.
She believes the Subcommittee on Weaponization of the Federal Government is a simple gathering of information.
Many of the subcommittee’s meetings have been highly combative, with explosive rebuttals from both Democrats and Republicans. Most of the Democratic members have criticized the existence and purpose of the subcommittee.
Democratic ranking member Stacey Plaskett said she was “deeply concerned about the use of this select subcommittee as a place to settle scores, showcase conspiracy theories and advance an extreme agenda that risks undermining Americans’ faith in our democracy.”
The next subcommittee meeting will be at 7 a.m. Thursday.