The Senate's grown-ups in the Trump-Russia probe follow facts, not politics

The Senate's grown-ups in the Trump-Russia probe follow facts, not politics
© Greg Nash

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) report of July 3 on a portion of its Russia probe — stealth-dropped when everyone is on recess or vacation and therefore not paying attention — is at once a dud and a beacon. It’s a dud because they chose to fell the tree when few could hear it falling in the forest. It’s also a dud because it adds little new.

The committee’s report is an analysis of the Intelligence Community’s assessment (ICA), dated January 2017, of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election. The ICA found that Russia meddled pervasively in the election and did so to the benefit of Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpSchiff: Surveillance warrant docs show that Nunes memo 'misrepresented and distorted these applications' Chicago detention facility under investigation following allegations of abuse of migrant children Ex-Trump aide: Surveillance warrants are 'complete ignorance' and 'insanity' MORE, and at the expense of Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWhite House protests extend into sixth day despite rain Clinton: US is 'losing friends and allies' under Trump Justice Dept releases surveillance applications for former Trump aide MORE. The committee’s report says it has added new corroborative findings to the IC’s assessment, but it offers no details, perhaps at a later date. The committee report essentially validates the ICA.

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The Senate Intelligence Committee has never been confused with a fact-finding committee. It’s a timid analysis committee, just for the record.

 

The committee report is simply an analysis of an analysis. They reviewed the assessment and, following interviews and other reviews, confirmed the IC’s work. Is that a duplication of effort, a waste of time and resources? No. That’s a firm check and balance in the form of confirmation by a relevant committee of Congress overseeing the executive branch.

But it does nothing to advance the ball with respect to new findings and facts. In a traditional oversight context, the SSCI report is a typical dud. But in this day and age of failed congressional oversight, it’s a beacon of hope.

Understanding why it’s a beacon requires a bit of intellectual alacrity. I and other followers of this probe have laid out hope that some U.S. government entity will provide a serious, sober revelation of what actually occurred. We’re not there yet. Not even close.

This SSCI report merely confirms what the executive branch already tells us on Russian interference — that Russia did interfere. That’s a building block, though. Given the state of other alleged congressional investigations, that’s a slight breakthrough. Meanwhile, other congressional investigations are off digging up rabbit holes and going down them, adding no value.

Why is this report a beacon? First, because it fulfills the mere minimum requirement of a duly constituted Senate committee to inquire with integrity and credibility. And second, in the present unruly environment of Congress’ dilemma to investigate or to not investigate the Trump administration, this committee chose to go forward with its teenie, tiny contribution to the truth.

It is also significant because it is bipartisan. Both Republican and Democratic members of the committee, agreed to this narrow conclusion. When is the last time that happened in a controversial dynamic? That’s a real step forward.

In traditional oversight metrics, this SSCI effort would have been viewed as a C-minus. In this day and age of failed oversight, it’s a B-plus.

Let’s look briefly at those other investigations that are allegedly being done by fact-finding committees and see how the SSCI report compares. First, for context, I offer an apt reference for wanting to find grown-ups in Congress, of which there are few, to perform oversight. Late 19th century poet Rudyard Kipling was musing with his young son about what it takes to be grown up. The first stanza of his poem “IF” begins, “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you…” That’s what SSCI has done while staying in its own, narrow lane. It has kept its head amidst turmoil.

The turmoil comes not just from the White House, but also the other so-called investigating committees. Those others, are Senate Judiciary and Homeland Security, and all the House committees. They are the ones chasing phantom rabbits down holes they themselves have dug and burrowed into. If and when they emerge, it’s with no new facts but instead more pointless questions.

Let’s take a peek: Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyKavanaugh returns questionnaire to Senate panel Sunk judicial pick spills over into Supreme Court fight Andrew Wheeler must reverse damage to American heartland MORE (R-Iowa) now goes beyond the infamous “criminal referral” with Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSunday shows preview: Questions linger over Trump-Putin summit Soccer ball Putin gifted to Trump gets routine security screening Graham: Biggest problem is Trump ‘believes meddling equals collusion’ MORE (R-S.C.) of British analyst Christopher Steele — a move akin to announcing to future whistleblowers that they can’t count on being treated fairly — by digging a new rabbit hole, chasing down Mike Flynn’s FBI 302 interview summary.

Do Republicans really think he can politically interfere in an ongoing criminal case (Flynn’s status conference in the Mueller probe is July 10, and the case isn’t closed yet) and re-litigate from Capitol Hill that Flynn shouldn’t have pleaded to what he actually pled to? Does he want to re-enact the FBI interview of Flynn like former Chairman Dan Burton (R-Ind.) reportedly re-enacted the Vince Foster suicide back in the ‘90s using a watermelon? The chief investigative counsel on the Senate Judiciary Committee actually used to work for Burton, according to Propublica. You can’t make this stuff up.

Meanwhile, enough has been said of Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonOn The Money: Trump 'ready' for tariffs on all 0B in Chinese goods | Trump digs in on Fed criticism | Lawmakers drop plans to challenge Trump ZTE deal Juan Williams: Putin wins as GOP spins GOP senator: Harley-Davidson is right to move some production overseas MORE (R-Wis.), Homeland Security committee chairman, who sounded the alarm on a deep state FBI “secret society” out to get the president. Johnson has graciously left the stage, saving himself from further embarrassment, if that’s possible.

On the House side, suffice it to merely mention Nunes I (the infamous “Nunes Memo”), Nunes II (the release of the Comey memos), and now Nunes III with other House Committees (the document request of an open case that may lead to Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod Jay RosensteinHillicon Valley: Trump's Russia moves demoralize his team | Congress drops effort to block ZTE deal | Rosenstein warns of foreign influence threat | AT&T's latest 5G plans The Hill's Morning Report — Trump and Congress at odds over Russia Rosenstein warns of growing cyber threat from Russia, other foreign actors MORE’s contempt citation, which will undoubtedly get thrown out of any court).

The bottom line is, Congress has clearly abdicated its oversight responsibility on the Russia probe, though it has done so while providing some unintentional amusement. And then along comes the Senate Intelligence Committee with its corroborative report of the ICA findings. Though unexciting, that report reflects that the committee has kept its head while others have not. The committee still has more work to do. But this new report at least provides a beacon of hope that bipartisan digging is still possible, and there are at least a handful of grown-ups in Congress.

Kris Kolesnik is a 34-year veteran of federal government oversight. He spent 19 years as senior counselor and director of investigations for Sen. Charles GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyKavanaugh returns questionnaire to Senate panel Sunk judicial pick spills over into Supreme Court fight Andrew Wheeler must reverse damage to American heartland MORE (R-Iowa). Kolesnik then became executive director of the National Whistleblower Center. Finally, he spent 10 years working with the Department of the Interior’s Office of Inspector General as the associate inspector general for external affairs.