Capitol Hill Republicans fire back at Dem probe of Georgia elections

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Urbana (Erin Schaff/The New York Times)

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Urbana (Erin Schaff/The New York Times)

Republicans on Capitol Hill’s top investigative committee ramped up criticism of their Democratic colleagues Monday, attacking what they see as a “partisan” and potentially unconstitutional probe of Georgia's voting system.

In identical letters to Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, four high-ranking Republicans on the House Oversight and Reform Committee suggested Democrats overreached in their recently-opened inquiry into alleged voting irregularities in Georgia's 2018 elections.

The Democrat-led committee is seeking troves of documents about problems during the high-profile election, including the tight race for governor between Kemp and Democrat Stacey Abrams.

“Their inquiry does not appear to have a valid legislative purpose and instead seeks confidential communications among state officials, including state law enforcement officials, regarding the enforcement of state law,” wrote Jim Jordan of Ohio, the committee’s ranking Republican, along with U.S. Reps. Jody Hice, R-Monroe, and Texas Republicans Chip Roy and Michael Cloud.

They sent similar letters to state officials in Kansas and Texas, who are also being questioned by the committee about election-related issues.

The quartet said they were not consulted before committee Chairman Elijah Cummings and fellow Maryland Democrat Jamie Raskin requested documents from Kemp and Raffensperger about Georgia's "exact match" law, the consolidation of polling siteslong lines and a bevy of other election-related issues from 2018.

Cummings and Raskin said they were seeking the information after “reports that Georgians faced unprecedented challenges with registering to vote and significant barriers to casting their votes during the 2018 election.”

“The U.S. Congress has the power and obligation to enforce the voting rights of the people,” Raskin, who leads an Oversight subcommittee focused on civil rights, said Monday. “It would be best if our GOP colleagues joined us in protecting voting rights, but at the very least they should stop trying to prevent us from doing our constitutionally mandated work.”

The Republicans warned the probe raised “serious federalism concerns” because Congress was inserting itself into state affairs.

There is little, however, that the Republicans can do to stop Cummings’ inquiry as members of the minority party in the House. The Oversight Committee has subpoena power, and Cummings has reserved the right to deploy it should Georgia officials refuse to fully cooperate. He could also call in Kemp or Raffensperger to testify.

The Georgians missed a March 20 deadline to hand over requested documents, but Raffensperger has said his office had been in "regular contact" with Cummings and that the two have agreed to a "voluntary rolling but extended production schedule" to comply with the March 6 request.

“I agree with Republican leadership that frivolous investigations designed to score political points are threatening to our institutions and costly to our taxpayers,” Raffensperger said Monday. “Although I am committed to cooperation with Congress, I am appalled — but not surprised — that Washington liberals are forcing the cost of an expensive legal witch hunt onto hardworking Georgians.”

Outside lawyers have gotten involved on Kemp and Raffensperger’s behalf.

The state government has hired Vince Russo, deputy general counsel for the Georgia Republican Party, and Elliot Berke, a Washington-based attorney and member of the Republican National Lawyers Association.

Georgia taxpayers will bear the cost of both attorneys, who will provide legal services related to the request for documents.

Berke will be paid $495 per hour, and Russo will be paid $225 per hour, according to documents obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution under the Georgia Open Records Act. In addition, their paralegals will be paid $60 an hour.

The objections raised by Republican members of Congress echoed concerns laid out by Berke in a March 29 letter to Cummings and Raskin.

“Your request raises serious federalism concerns. It requests information from a sovereign state about matters that are the purview of state law. It also requests information that explicitly targets ongoing state law enforcement investigations,” Berke wrote.

Berke said he has produced some documents related to undervotes in last fall’s election for lieutenant governor. Those documents included court hearing transcripts and election results data. Additional documents are being reviewed to determine whether they’re relevant to the congressional committee’s request.

Republican Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr believed that hiring a law firm that has expertise in congressional inquiries was in the best interest of the state, said spokeswoman Katie Byrd. The attorneys will also be able to handle the large quantity of requested materials, she said.

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