House GOP wants to defund the FBI. A 2024 candidate wants to shut it down. What to know

WASHINGTON – The legal troubles surrounding former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, have made the FBI a common target for 2024 Republican presidential candidates and some current members of the House GOP.

After the FBI searched Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate for classified documents last year, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-GA., called to defund the FBI on X, formerly known as Twitter.

This position has been reiterated by other members of the House in recent months, including Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and Rep. Matt Gaez, R-Florida, as federal and state investigations focus on Trump and House Republicans investigate Hunter Biden’s business dealings abroad.

Some lawmakers have alleged the agency is “weaponized” against conservatives and have called for the Trump-appointed FBI director Christopher Wray to step down.

On the campaign trail, 37-year-old biotechnology entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy took the calls a step further and said he would shut down the FBI and replace it with a similar institution.

“I think the FBI as an institution should not exist,” Ramaswamy told USA TODAY. “I think that that is far more practical than it sounds…I do not believe that an institution that entrenched in its culture and way of operating can be reformed.”

Here’s what political and legal experts say about the practicalities of defunding or shutting down the FBI.

What would happen if lawmakers defunded or shut down the FBI?

The FBI is a federal agency primarily funded by Congress, which reviews the FBI’s budget appropriations, programs and selected investigations.

Defunding it would mean many resources for law enforcement would likely be missed, according to David Super, a constitutional law expert at Georgetown University. The FBI has the resources to compete toe-to-toe with sophisticated adversaries, such as drug cartels, other organized crime and the intelligence services of foreign countries wanting to spy on the U.S., he said.

“These functions could be moved to other agencies. Depending on how that is done, the loss in effectiveness might be dramatic or relatively modest,” Super said.

Joan Meyer, a partner at the law firm Thompson Hine, highlighted that the FBI assists short-staffed state and county law enforcement in instances, such as child kidnappings, where every minute counts. If the FBI was defunded, these resources would not exist and communities would not be as safe, she said.

Defunding the FBI could also lead to its shutdown, Neama Rahmani, a former federal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, told USA TODAY.

While law enforcement functions are undertaken by other agencies, such as various parts of the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of the Treasury, those agencies tend to be very specialized, Jonathan Entin, a law professor at Case Western Reserve, said. If the FBI were defunded, the federal government would likely need to replace it with some other general law enforcement operation, he said.

A shutdown of the agency would “put a lot of people out of work, create havoc with numerous ongoing investigations, and impede countless state criminal investigations that count on FBI investigative resources and expertise,” according to Marc Scholl, who served as a criminal prosecutor in New York.

During a hearing two weeks ago, Wray was asked what would happen if the FBI was defunded or dismantled. Wray said there would be violent criminals out on the street, more violent gangs terrorizing communities, more child predators on the loose, threats from the Chinese Communist Party being unaddressed and other outcomes.

Is it possible to shut down the FBI? How about replace it?

Shutting down the FBI is perfectly constitutional, Scholl said.

While the Constitution’s preamble states one of its purposes is to “promote the general welfare,” the Constitution does not require specifically a FBI or even any federal criminal investigative agency, according to Scholl.

Instead, it leaves the details of federal departments and agencies to Congress, which gets to create them, Entin said.

It is theoretically possible for Congress to create a different agency with the FBI’s authority or to change the authority of the current FBI as to what crimes it may investigate and authorize funding, Scholl said.

“For example, Congress could try to enact laws that deny the FBI authority to investigate tax crimes or weapons crimes or drug crimes − just as Congress could try to repeal crimes that it believes should not expose people to criminal consequences,” Scholl said.

But passing such legislation would be dependent on what party controls both the House and the Senate.

Shutting down a federal agency is not unprecedented, according to Super. Congress has closed federal agencies, such as the Civil Aeronautics Board, on numerous occasions and reorganized the government on others, such as creating the Department of Homeland Security from units that were in several existing cabinet departments.

Is it feasible to replace the FBI with another agency?

Meyer said that it would not be feasible to replace the FBI, noting that it would most likely create chaos and criminal elements could take advantage of that gap.

“(Over 37,000) employees with thousands of pending cases,” Meyer said. “They could set up FBI-2 but it would take years to re-staff and the cases would need immediate attention and qualified staff to handle. That would create quite a problem. And it is why this talk of defunding the FBI is so much bluster.”

Steven Smith, a political science professor at the Washington University in St. Louis, agreed, noting that a replacement agency “would have to absorb most of the employees, office spaces, and labs of the FBI.”

“There would be no alternative,” Smith told USA TODAY. “It would take many years, perhaps decades, to replace the law enforcement infrastructure and expertise of the FBI if a new agency started from scratch. Moreover, there would be considerable disruption of state and local law enforcement, which relies on FBI information systems, labs, and other assets.”

If an individual defunds the FBI, ICE, or a local police department and tries to start hiring a new staff, they will rapidly find that many or most of the people with the skills and expertise needed who are available to be hired are the ones just laid off from the agency that was shut down, Super said.

“They think a new agency that could hire staff afresh would solve that problem,” Super said. “I am skeptical.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: House GOP wants to defund the FBI. Ramaswamy wants to shut it down.

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