The House Intelligence Committee is supposed to be more bipartisan than other House committees and a place where members conduct serious oversight of America’s intelligence agencies. Its members are expected to put politics aside to oversee sensitive intelligence programs that are crucial to protecting our nation’s national security.
That’s not what we saw in Monday’s rare open Intelligence Committee hearing. Democratic members spent every minute of the hearing to smear the president before the cameras. By doing so, they made a mockery of bipartisan intelligence oversight.
Republican Intelligence Committee members were taken off guard by hyper-partisan behavior of their Democratic colleagues. At the hearing there were some useful exchanges between Republican members and Comey on the seriousness of recent leaks of intelligence as well as the unmasking and illegal disclosure of General Michael Flynn’s name from NSA reports. Unfortunately, these discussions were overshadowed by the Democrats who were much more aggressive in pushing their Trump-Russia conspiracy theories.
Congressional Republicans must learn from this episode that the Democratic Party is so obsessed with destroying President Trump that their Democratic colleagues cannot be trusted to engage in good faith deliberations or hearings on anything that they can use to hurt Trump. Sadly, this includes national security.
This means there should be no more open hearings on issues like Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Additional open hearings that the Senate and House Intelligence Committees have scheduled on this issue should be made closed hearings.
Republicans seemed to have gotten the message on this. Friday, an open House Intelligence Committee hearing scheduled for next week on the Russia/election hearing scheduled was cancelled. It will be replaced with a closed hearing.
If open congressional hearings on the Russia/election or similar issues are held, Republican members must be much more aggressive in pursuing leaks of classified information and the abuse of U.S intelligence by the Obama administration to spy on the Trump campaign. Committee chairmen should run such hearings with iron gavels and give Democratic members zero leeway to turn them into political circuses.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes proved that he knows what he’s up against in the aftermath of Monday’s intelligence committee hearing by the way he handled new information suggesting that the Obama administration did surveil the Trump campaign.
Nunes was given intelligence, apparently under the table from U.S. intelligence officers, which indicates the names of Trump campaign aides were “demasked” in intelligence reports that had nothing to do with Russia or any alleged wrongdoing by the Trump campaign.
This is a big deal because the names of American citizens incidentally collected by U.S. intelligence agencies are blacked out and are not supposed to be revealed unless there is a compelling national security reason.
Nunes has been condemned by Intelligence Committee Democrats and the news media by the way he disclosed this information since he presented it to the press without informing his Democratic colleagues in advance. Nunes also informed the White House about this information before he briefed the committee and is refusing to tell Democratic committee members the name or names of his sources.
Maybe Nunes should not have brought this information to the White House before he briefed committee members. (He apologized to them for this.)
My view is that Nunes took the right approach. He knows it is pointless to work with committee Democrats on this issue and if he had brought this intelligence to them before his press conference, they would have quickly leaked this information to the press to discredit it.
Nunes also is absolutely right in not revealing the name or names of his sources since there is a good chance committee Democrats would try to out these sources or get their managers to retaliate against them. I saw this happen when I worked for the CIA.
This story looks like it will soon get even more interesting. Fox News’ James Rosen reported Thursday that the committee may soon receive – possibly today — intelligence that “is said to leave no doubt the Obama administration, in its closing days, was using the cover of legitimate surveillance on foreign targets to spy on President-elect Trump.”
Nunes was smart to double down on his effort to fight back against Democratic politicization of intelligence oversight when he said at a press conference Friday that he was cancelling an open hearing next week on the Russia election hearing and had turned it into a closed hearing.
In addition, Nunes said he has recalled FBI Director Comey and NSA Director Rogers to testify to this hearing.
I assume Nunes’ new information, the FBI’s refusal to fully cooperate with the committee’s investigation and Comey’s failure to fully answer questions about intelligence leaks are why Nunes is recalling Comey and Rogers.
Predictably, Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee complained bitterly in a follow-up press conference Friday that Nunes cancelled the open hearing and questioned why Comey and Rogers were being recalled.
It was the height of gall for Schiff to complain that Nunes’ actions indicate he is not interested in an independent and objective investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election after Schiff and his Democratic colleagues proved at Monday’s hearing that they are only interested in using this investigation to destroy the Trump presidency.
Nunes realizes this and decided to fight back. Until congressional Democrats start putting the good of the country above their hatred of President Trump, Republican congressional leaders must employ similar tactics to do the work of the American people and safeguard our national security.
Fred Fleitz is senior vice president for policy and programs with the Center for Security Policy, a Washington, DC national security think tank. He held U.S. government national security positions for 25 years with the CIA, DIA, and the House Intelligence Committee staff. Fleitz also served as Chief of Staff to John R. Bolton when he was Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security in the George W. Bush administration. Fleitz specializes in the Iranian nuclear program, terrorism, and intelligence issues.