Can we please stop pretending that the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russian interference in last year’s presidential election is bipartisan and credible? It’s anything but.
Congressman Devin Nunes’ behavior during this probe has been beyond odd — it’s the exact opposite of what you would expect from the chairman of a committee that has historically performed its oversight and investigatory work on a bipartisan basis.
Sure, the injuries inflicted on the intelligence community’s activities in the late 1970s, Iran-Contra in the mid-1980s and the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2002 resulted in controversies and arguments among committee members. But all of those investigations involved a genuine effort to get to the truth of the matter. Reports were produced and declassified so the American people could see for themselves what exactly was going on in the inner confines of the U.S. national security bureaucracy. And in the case of the Church Committee and 9/11 inquiries, new legislation was eventually debated and passed to either increase congressional oversight or reform how homeland defense efforts were structured.
The House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russia, while still in its opening stages, isn’t similar to any of these previous inquiries. Instead, the entire affair is quickly morphing into another Benghazi Select Committee where Republicans and Democrats question one another’s motives, the chairman acts in a dictatorial fashion, and witnesses are dragged into the hearing room to serve as piñatas. FBI Director James Comey’s five-hour appearance last week, the first public hearing that the intel committee has held, was Exhibit A of how congressional politics can get in the way of a fact-finding mission.
There have been so many strange choices by Nunes that articles are now being posted virtually writing off whatever the panel does. The chairman has made one misstep after another: talking to reporters at the behest of the White House in order to discredit unflattering reports; hurrying to the White House grounds to read classified information without notifying the ranking member; briefing President Trump and the news media about those intelligence reports without first briefing his Democratic counterpart; abruptly cancelling an open hearing with little explanation; and behaving as though other committee members don’t deserve access to information. As Ranking Member Adam Schiff said on “Face the Nation” yesterday, “We are all quite in the dark on this.”
If the investigation continues like it has, the House Intelligence Committee as an institution runs a very high risk of being thoroughly discredited. As the chairman, Nunes needs to keep that in mind and act accordingly, because his committee holds a special place in congressional history. It would be a shame if that reputation were thrown into the gutter.