House Republicans this month reinstated a rule that allows Congress to cut the salary of anyone working for the federal government, and some hope to slash the pay of Jack Smith, the special counsel investigating former President Donald Trump.
Republicans have in mind plenty of federal employees they would like to stop paying as they try to reduce the size and scope of government, but Mr. Smith may top the list.
Appointed by Attorney General Merrick Garland, Mr. Smith is overseeing a two-part criminal investigation of Mr. Trump: his involvement in the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol and the possession of classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago home in Palm Beach, Florida.
Many Republican lawmakers say the investigation is politically motivated and have lobbied House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to reinstate the Holman Rule, which would allow them to attempt to reduce Mr. Smith’s salary to nearly nothing.
“That means no money for Garland’s politically weaponized special counsel,” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Georgia Republican, tweeted in support of the Holman rule. “Whoops, defunded!”
Other Republicans say halting the investigation may be impossible.
House Republicans reinstated the Holman Rule after taking over the majority this month. Although the provision would allow lawmakers to try to eliminate individual salaries, the rule is primarily aimed at reforming agencies, Rep. Andy Biggs, an Arizona Republican who pushed for the rule’s reinstatement, told The Washington Times.
Eliminating the special counsel investigation of Mr. Trump would be difficult, he said.
“The special counsel is a trickier problem,” Mr. Biggs said. “The way the Holman Rule is set up, you go into a department or agency and Congress kind of reforms it. So you can reduce salaries or eliminate positions without necessarily eliminating the agency or the program itself.”
Another political complication could be Mr. Garland’s appointment Thursday of a second special counsel to investigate President Biden.
Mr. Garland announced that Robert Hur, a former U.S. attorney appointed by Mr. Trump, will investigate Mr. Biden’s storage of classified documents from his time as vice president in nonsecure locations.
With few exceptions, Mr. Biden did not have the authority as vice president to declassify any Obama-era classified material upon leaving office. Mr. Trump, as president, did have that authority.
A Biden attorney said the documents, found in three locations including the president’s garage at his home in Wilmington, Delaware, “were inadvertently misplaced.”
Mr. Trump launched his third presidential campaign on Nov. 15 at Mar-a-Lago, which the FBI raided three months earlier and seized 11 sets of classified materials. On Nov. 18, three days after Mr. Trump announced his White House bid, Mr. Garland announced the appointment of Mr. Smith to conduct a criminal investigation into the classified materials and Mr. Trump’s role in the riot, which was under a separate investigation by a Democratic-led House panel.
“Based on recent developments, including the former president’s announcement that he is a candidate for president in the next election, and the sitting president’s stated intention to be a candidate as well, I have concluded that it is in the public interest to appoint a special counsel,” Mr. Garland said. “Such an appointment underscores the department’s commitment to both independence and accountability in particularly sensitive matters. It also allows prosecutors and agents to continue their work expeditiously, and to make decisions indisputably guided only by the facts and the law.”
Mr. Trump and other Republicans say the special counsel investigation is warrantless and an effort by Democrats to stop Mr. Biden’s chief 2024 rival.
On his Truth Social platform, Mr. Trump called the investigation a “political persecution” and Mr. Smith a “fully weaponized monster.”
Although federal law strictly forbids the removal or retention of classified documents or materials outside secured locations without authorization, Mr. Trump had the authority as president to declassify any document. He said he did so with the material taken by the FBI.
Congressional Republicans have sided with Mr. Trump’s concerns about the special counsel investigation.
Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, called the appointment of Mr. Smith “Trump derangement syndrome, but this time with a gun and badge.”
Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee criticized the appointment of Mr. Smith, who played a role in ramping up IRS scrutiny of tea party groups and other conservative organizations seeking tax-exempt status nearly a decade ago.
“Jack Smith and his buddies have been politicizing Washington for AGES,” committee lawmakers said. “And he’s who AG Garland picked to be the special counsel to ‘investigate’ President Trump?”
Despite the hurdles, some Republicans may try to slash Mr. Smith’s salary by invoking the Holman Rule. They would have to wait until October after Congress passes fiscal 2024 spending legislation.
If House Republicans use their five-seat majority to pass a spending bill that cuts Mr. Smith’s pay, the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats, is almost certain to reject it. Mr. Biden would never sign it into law.
House Democrats, who eliminated the Holman Rule in 2019, accused Republicans of putting it back into place to protect Mr. Trump from criminal charges.
The Holman Rule was forced on the Republican majority, they said, by “the hard-right MAGA fringe … to defund law enforcement and shield Donald Trump from investigation.”
Although Republicans may not be able to use the Holman Rule to end the criminal investigation of Mr. Trump, they plan to use the provision to address what they say is an increasingly weaponized and politicized federal government.
The Holman Rule permits lawmakers to cut agency staffing in addition to individual salaries.
Republicans are eying parts of the Justice Department, including the FBI, which has come under scrutiny for trying to ban conservative voices on social media platforms.
Mr. Biggs told The Times that the Holman rule could be used to overhaul the FBI, which he said seems to be “overly and overtly politicized,” and the Justice Department, where someone coordinated with the National School Board Association president to persuade Mr. Garland to generate an investigation of parents whose behavior at school board meetings was deemed threatening.
“We know that letter came from the National School Board Association, requesting this, and so you could find out who at the Justice Department was doing that, what their position was, and you could begin to eliminate that position altogether and restructure that part of the office so they can’t do that type of thing in the future,” Mr. Biggs said.
The reinstatement of the Holman Rule dovetails with a committee that the Republican majority created to examine the “weaponization of government.”
“Every American should shudder at the power of the government to target and tyrannize American citizens,” said Rep. Chip Roy of Texas, who was among the Republicans who called for the panel. “That’s why this committee is so crucial to defend the American people.”