Among those who briefed congressional aides was a former Trump administration official, an energy lobbyist and a reporter from the Epoch Times, a nonprofit organization media company linked to the Chinese spiritual community of Falun Gong and known for his conspiracypro-Trump views.
Founded in 2017 and chaired by former Sen. Jim DeMint (RS.C.), CPI is relatively new to Washington’s conservative advocacy ecosystem. Yet it is raising massive sums: $45 million in 2021 alone, and rapidly gaining influence, particularly with members of the Trump-friendly House Freedom Caucus. Between peers that you list on your website They are Cleta Mitchell, one of the key lawyers who tried to help Trump overturn the 2020 election.
The Feb. 15-17 meeting was, according to the disclosures, among about a dozen congressional staff trainings hosted over the past year at «Camp Rydin,» a 2,200-acre complex recently bought by CPI. Located in Cambridge, Md., the complex is named after mike rydina recently retired software mogul and advisory board member to the conservative group Turning Point USA.
Other meetings there have included a congress training camp for researchers in December and a Legislative Director Retirement in October. But experts who track such events say they have become more regular and popular with conservative groups like the CPI.
“I don’t know of any other group that has conducted trainings so consistently and for such a wide variety of employees,” said Brendan Fischer, deputy chief executive of Documented, a nonpartisan investigative watchdog that tracks such trainings. “It really shows how CPI is creating and nurturing the next generation of far-right politicians.”
According to an itinerary for the mid-February meeting, staff were shuttled to the complex from The Heritage Foundation, a longtime conservative think tank that also sponsored the event. Once there, they were offered the opportunity to attend 10 different discussion boards.
The guests included, among others, 15 members of the staff of Republican legislators. who voted to overturn the results of the 2020 elections, including representatives. andy-harris Maryland, scott perry of Pennsylvania and spear gooden The staff, mostly legislative aides, were invited «because their official duties include assisting with oversight matters» on a variety of congressional committees, according to a disclosure form presented by one of the other three hosts, the American Accountability Foundation. The group is a nonprofit opposition research firm formed in 2021 that uses «unorthodox» and «controversial» tactics to block Biden’s agenda. according to Fox News.
“The AAF is extremely excited to be able to work with Congressional staff to assist them in their oversight activities in this Congress,” said AAF chief Tom Jones, former director of opposition research for the Senator. ted cross, (R-Texas) said via email. “It is a target-rich environment for oversight of the Biden Administration and whenever the Administration meets congressional oversight demands, we will need a cadre of youth to assist in committee oversight activities.”
Heritage and CPI did not respond to requests for comment through their press offices.
Such training sessions are permitted under congressional ethics rules unless registered lobbyists conduct the sessions, said Richard Painter, a former ethics attorney in the George W. Bush administration. «Even if it’s technically legal, it’s very unseemly,» he said of «outside partisan groups taking staff to a resort with only Republicans in the room and training them on how to become more aggressive.»
“It really undermines the integrity of any investigation,” Painter said.
Among the speakers at the mid-February retreat was Hubbel Relat, who co-led a panel on preparing public records requests. A former deputy solicitor for Trump’s Department of the Interior, Relat was investigated by agency inspector general for “alleged interference” in 2019 for participating in the withholding of hundreds of pages of public documents during the confirmation process of the department’s proposed secretary. During a separate panel titled “Shark Tank Monitoring,” Art Arthur, a former attorney for the Republican Party Judiciary Committee and a former Pennsylvania immigration judge, spoke and participants ran through mock investigations.
Other speakers included Merav Ceren, a senior staff member of the House Oversight Committee; Sean Hayes, former director of supervision for the Department of Health and Human Services; and Becca Glover, Deputy Chief of Staff to Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin.
The East Coast complex, purchased by more than $7 million — has been a source of interest to Democrats since it was bought by CPI in early 2022 through an LLC. It has been the site of numerous trainings for congressional staff and is a complement to a larger group of properties that CPI bought in the last 14 months in the vicinity of the United States Capitol. In May of last year, Camp Rydin hosted the «Effective Oversight Retreat» for congressional staff in anticipation of the Republican takeover of the US House of Representatives in November.
During that bootcamp, one 90 minute session was led by scott gast of Compass Legal Services, who served as Trump’s representative while the former president held classified documents at the National Archives. Formerly a lawyer in the White House counsel’s office, Gast was among a handful of representatives listed in correspondence between the Files and Trump’s legal team. Compass Legal was also serving for Trump’s leadership PAC, Save America PAC, at the time of the recall, according to a filing listing a payment of $15,000.
Democrats have long argued that Republicans’ congressional oversight agenda is being shaped by a desire to further Trump’s political interests. And they have pointed to the growing influence of the CPI in the country’s capital as proof of this.
“CPI says they are in DC to drain the swamp, but from here it looks more like a hostile takeover,” said Kyle Herrig, executive director of the Congressional Integrity Project, which serves as a hub for Democrats responding to GOP investigations. .
“The same people who worked to overturn the 2020 election now want to push for more conspiracy-laden investigations on Capitol Hill and silence the voices of ordinary and working Americans,” he said.
Located blocks from the US Capitol, CPI “is creating the oriented MAGA political infrastructure that the Trump administration lacked,” according to Documented. Among its core programs, according to your most recent annual report, is “recommending strong conservative candidates for staff positions.” CPI claimed to be the «reference organization» that provides «ideological research» and personnel for congressional offices.