Bob Franken: Tainting intelligence panel with partisanship

King Features Syndicate

I covered Capitol Hill during my CNN phase. That was quite a while ago, but to this day, I have friends among veteran members of Congress, including members of the House and Senate intelligence committees.

These are Washington “friends,” which is to say that that when I’m reporting on them, they often turn into adversaries. They don’t give me any sort of favored treatment. Any conversation about the classified material they review as they conduct their oversight of various national security operations is strictly off-limits.
Since the committees were formed in the 1970s, their tradition has been proudly nonpartisan, making them sanctuaries of relative harmony in the dissonant screech of politics. Until now, that is.

On the Senate side, that still seems to be the case. But certainly not at House Intelligence, chaired by Republican Devin Nunes.

Acting as Donald Trump’s hand puppet, Nunes has thrown out any pretense of collaboration. He has repeatedly tried to muddy the waters of an investigation into Donald Trump’s already murky relationship with the Russian government, and into whether Vladimir Putin colluded with Trump and/or associates to influence the precious election for the president of the United States. That investigation is being conducted, of course, by special counsel Robert Mueller, a lifelong Republican himself.

unes recently released a staff memo attempting to selectively contrive a case that all the Russia probes are somehow tainted by partisanship. He did so over the strenuous objections of the FBI and Justice Department, which felt it gave away secrets.

It was released to much fanfare, but frankly, divulged nothing of consequence, unless you count revealing the desperation Trump and his cohorts might be feeling as Mueller starts tightening the vise.

The California congressman has done this kind of clumsy thing before, obliterating any separation between his committee’s jealously guarded oversight role and his unsightly willingness to do whatever the Trumpsters want.

Predictably, Democrats were bent out of shape, their twaddle flapping in outrage.

But it’s worth noting that many Republicans were equally steamed. House Intelligence Committee Republican Trey Gowdy, who’s as partisan as they come, said in defense of Muller: “The contents of this memo do not — in any way — discredit his investigation.”

As he so often does, Sen. John McCain kicked it up a notch: “The latest attacks on the FBI and Department of Justice serve no American interests — no party’s, no president’s, only Putin’s.”

So we are left with Mueller and the FBI plodding along with their investigation as Donald Trump commissions repeated actions to sabotage it. His tactics, and those of the ones who have cast their lots with him, involve building a case against those who are building a case against him.

The question is how far he’ll go in that effort, and what happens if he ends up being officially accused of colluding with Moscow? Will the politicians ramp up the courage to take action against him, or will they, like Nunes, continue to be his hand puppet — the function he’s accused of serving for Putin?

The Democrats have been agitating for release of their response to Nunes’ memo, providing an alternative version of the issue. But the White House, which had no problem with immediate release of the Republican version, is blocking the Democratic version on national security grounds.



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