Nonprofits With Ties to Democrats Plan Counteroffensive Against Congressional Investigations
WASHINGTON — With Republicans in control of the House of Representatives, a loose network of groups allied with Democrats is planning a multimillion-dollar counteroffensive against an expected onslaught of oversight investigations into President Biden, his family and his administration.
The White House, which is building its own defense team, has quietly signaled support for some of the efforts by nonprofit groups with ties to some of the biggest donors in Democratic politics, according to people familiar with the groups.
The efforts appear intended to take pressure off the administration by pushing back in a more adversarial manner than Mr. Biden’s team on sensitive subjects, including the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, the administration’s Covid response and — perhaps most notably — the foreign business dealings of Mr. Biden’s son, Hunter Biden.
“The White House cannot be the sole nucleus for publicly responding to the onslaught of congressional investigations,” reads a memo from a nonprofit group called Facts First USA that has been circulating among major Democratic donors, members of Congress and others.
It lays out a $5 million-a-year “SWAT team to counter Republican congressional investigations,” including on issues that “may be too personal or delicate for the White House to be responding or to even be seen as directing a response” — an apparent reference to Hunter Biden.
David Brock, the Democratic activist behind Facts First, said his group “intends to work with the White House where appropriate but will make our own judgments.”
Another group, the Congressional Integrity Project, announced Wednesday that it intended to launch a multimillion-dollar “war room” to undermine investigations from the Republican-led House. People involved in that initiative, which was first reported by Politico, have previously worked with Mr. Brock’s team and have close connections to the White House and the Democratic Party.
The political arm of the Center for American Progress, the influential progressive think tank, is planning to cast the Republican investigations as “politically motivated revenge politics,” according to its chief executive, Patrick Gaspard.
The rush by some of the left’s leading figures to mount responses underscores mounting concerns that Republicans could use their investigations to damage Mr. Biden and other Democrats headed into the 2024 presidential election. The scramble also highlights an old Washington dynamic: When there is divided government, lawmaking tends to grind to a halt and Congress is dominated by oversight fights.
That is likely to be particularly true when Republicans take control of the House of Representatives next year with a majority that is slimmer than the party had hoped. In such an environment, it can be easier to win support for oversight investigations, which require less consensus than major legislative initiatives.
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The battles could be turbocharged by new outside groups like Facts First, which is funded by “dark money” from donors whose identities can be kept secret. The ongoing law enforcement inquiries into two figures who loom largest in the oversight investigations — Hunter Biden, who is under investigation for tax-related violations and other issues, and former President Donald J. Trump — add another layer of intensity to the fight.
Mr. Trump declared his candidacy for the 2024 presidential election on Tuesday, even as he faces investigations related to his handling of classified materials, his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election and his business.
While some in the party blame him for disappointing results in this month’s midterm elections, his allies in Congress have indicated that they intend to use the oversight investigations to damage Mr. Biden and avenge Mr. Trump.
Many of the planned oversight investigations align closely with Mr. Trump’s grievances, including accusations of politically motivated Justice Department investigations into him, criticisms of the Biden administration’s handling of the withdrawal from Afghanistan and border policies, and claims about the business dealings of Hunter Biden and other members of the president’s family.
House Republicans have been working closely for months with outside groups affiliated with Mr. Trump and funded by anonymous cash to plan for the oversight.
Representative James Comer of Kentucky, who is in line to become chairman of the Oversight Committee, and Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, who is expected to be chairman of the Judiciary Committee, planned to hold a news conference Thursday morning on “investigative actions.”
The White House declined to comment.
But it has been gearing up for the oversight battles ahead as well, by compiling research on Republican arguments and the members of Congress making them, including trawling deeply conservative corners of the internet to build out a rapid-response database, according to a person familiar with the effort.
The White House also added lawyers and communications staff members, while working with outside lawyers to prepare for an anticipated barrage of subpoenas, as well as possible efforts to impeach Mr. Biden. An administration official said that additional personnel would be added to handle the inquiries in the White House and the agencies under Republican scrutiny, including the Defense Department, the Education Department, the Health and Human Services Department, the Homeland Security Department and the State Department.
“Republicans are going to launch baseless broadsides against the White House,” Eric Schultz, who handled the Obama administration’s response to congressional oversight investigations, said in an interview. “They already have been. Holding them accountable for their own word as a measure of their credibility, that’s entirely fair game.”
Hunter Biden will be assisted in the congressional investigations by Joshua A. Levy, who previously represented the opposition research firm Fusion GPS when it became the target of Republican congressional investigations.
Mr. Levy declined to comment.
Hunter Biden himself has mostly stayed quiet as Republicans have worked to make him into a boogeyman.
It is a void that Mr. Brock and Kevin Morris, a close adviser to Hunter Biden, are preparing to fill.
Mr. Morris, a Hollywood lawyer who has been helping Hunter Biden with financial and legal support, offered to collaborate with the Facts First effort during a meeting in September in Los Angeles with Mr. Brock, according to people familiar with the meeting.
Mr. Morris has assembled a team of lawyers, computer forensic experts and public relations professionals, according to a person familiar with Mr. Morris’s plans. They have discussed plans to go on offense against allies of Mr. Trump who targeted Hunter Biden, including those who disseminated or highlighted a cache of files with embarrassing information that appears to have come from an abandoned laptop.
Mr. Brock has far more political experience than Mr. Morris, but he also has a track record of bare-knuckle tactics that have drawn criticism on both sides of the aisle.
Once a self-described “right-wing hit man,” Mr. Brock switched sides and became an ardent supporter of Hillary Clinton, setting up a political action committee that coordinated with her 2016 presidential campaign to defend her against media scrutiny and attacks from rivals.
Over the last two decades, Mr. Brock built a network of nonprofit groups that are supported by some of the biggest donors on the left, and that play important roles in the Democratic Party’s ecosystem.
Mr. Brock is stepping away from his position as chairman of two of his main groups, Media Matters and American Bridge, to focus on Facts First USA, for which he will serve as president. It is in some ways modeled on the PAC he used to attack Mrs. Clinton’s rivals, and he left open the door to Facts First coordinating with the White House, the Democratic National Committee or other Democratic groups, including a potential Biden campaign, if the president declared for re-election.
“We’re an outside independent group,” he said, “and we hope that lots of people are willing to join the fight against Republican disinformation and conspiracy mongering, including the White House and all allied groups.”
His group, the Congressional Integrity Project and the White House seem aligned so far on one thing — targeting the Republicans driving the oversight.
Mr. Brock’s group and the White House are assembling research intended to cast Republicans involved in the oversight as hypocrites, pointing to those who defied subpoenas in the congressional investigation into the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
Michael S. Schmidt contributed reporting.