Congress needs bipartisanship to fully investigate Russian influence

Congress needs bipartisanship to fully investigate Russian influence
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Congress has a unique and critically important role to play in understanding the threats to our democracy posed by Russian efforts to affect our elections. The investigations underway in several House and Senate committees represent the constitutional and institutional responsibility of the legislative branch to find the facts for the American people, analyze their significance, and design appropriate responses. The Supreme Court has recognized this important role, explaining that the “power of Congress to conduct investigation…includes surveys of defects in our social, economic or political system for the purpose of enabling Congress to remedy them.”

The investigative power of Congress is at its most effective when it is exercised for institutional purposes and not for political purposes, and that means when both parties are fully involved in the fact-finding and work together as committees and not unilaterally. Recently, there have been a number of many incidents where committee leadership of both parties have been acting independently of one another, as in one case in the Senate where the majority party made a criminal referral to the Department of Justice and the minority party responded by making public a key interview transcript, and another case in the House, where the majority party has ignored requests from the minority party for documents and interviews.

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My experience in conducting investigations at both the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations and the Senate Armed Services Committee is that the most effective way for Congress to meet its constitutional and institutional responsibilities is to conduct oversight investigations on a joint basis, with committee leaders from both parties committing themselves and their staffs to engaging in the various investigative steps together through identifying and interview witnesses, requesting and reviewing documents, holding hearings, issuing reports, and making referrals.

Congress continues to see at least some apparent bipartisan oversight efforts. The Senate Intelligence Committee under the leadership of Sens. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrGOP lambasts Trump over performance in Helsinki GOP Intel chairman: Trump should recognize Putin lies The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by Better Medicare Alliance — Trump seeks `home run’ candidate to succeed Justice Kennedy MORE (R-N.C.) and Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerSenate Dems rip Trump after Putin news conference Trump and Putin should be talking about cyber weapons and social media instead of nuclear weapons The Hill's Morning Report — Trump, Putin meet under cloud of Mueller’s Russia indictments MORE (D-Va.), has made bipartisanship an explicit goal, and the leaders and their staffs seem to be working together. Meanwhile, Sens. Jim Lankford (R-Okla.) and Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharBooker seizes on Kavanaugh confirmation fight Democrats build abortion case against Kavanaugh  The animating forces behind the Democratic Party are true, radical leftists MORE (D-Minn.) have joined forces in a bipartisan effort to fortify state electoral systems against cyberattacks by Russian hackers and others.

It is an undeniable political truth that bipartisan investigations are more effective than partisan inquiries. I learned this when working with my Republican colleagues in the Senate. Because bipartisan investigations involve members of Congress with disparate views, they also typically produce more accurate and credible fact-finding. And when the parties work together, they build rather than undermine public confidence in Congress, and make it more possible for lawmakers to find common ground and fix problems.

Russian attacks on our elections strike at the core of American democracy and democracies around the world. Witness the Russian interference in elections in a number of NATO countries, most recently the Czech Republic. The Russian effort represents a threat to both Republicans and Democrats by exploiting our political differences, targeting Russian critics from both parties, and intensifying our conflicts in an effort to delegitimize democratic principles.

Our political leaders need to rise to the occasion and restore bipartisanship in their oversight inquiries. Working together is the best response to Russian efforts to divide and weaken us. It is only by working in tandem that our political leaders will be able to protect the American people from ongoing attacks by a common adversary. If the Russian attack on our democracy doesn’t provide sufficient incentive to work together, I’m not sure what would.

Carl LevinCarl Milton LevinConservatives see Kethledge as 'Gorsuch 2.0' How House Republicans scrambled the Russia probe Congress dangerously wields its oversight power in Russia probe MORE served as a U.S. senator from Michigan in Congress for 36 years. He served as both chairman and ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee and on the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. He conducted bipartisan investigations in both capacities.