Shouting match over Russia erupts at House hearing

A routine House Oversight Committee hearing Thursday turned into a shouting match between the Republican chairman and the ranking Democrat over Russian interference in the presidential election.

In a fight that exposed bitter frustration amongst Democrats that Republicans have kept the issue locked in a single committee — the Intelligence Committee in both chambers — lawmakers sparred over whether Oversight should conduct a public investigation into last year's cyberattack that stole information from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC).

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“It’s clear that politics have prevented this committee from being willing or able to do the necessary objective and nonpartisan oversight on the Russian attack,” said Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.).

The chairman, Rep. Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzGowdy won't use Oversight gavel to probe Russia The Hill's 12:30 Report Chaffetz: Trump administration 'almost worse' than Obama's on transparency MORE (R-Utah), argued that studying sources and methods used to draw an intelligence conclusion is the jurisdiction of the Intelligence Committee and, further, that it would be “inappropriate” for Oversight to “dive into the private systems of a political party.”

Democrats weren’t satisfied.

“That’s not anybody else’s work. That’s our work. There’s plenty of reports we can talk about — and we ought to do it publicly — about the damage done to the confidence in our electoral system. That’s what’s important here,” Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) shouted.

“We had nine separate investigations into Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonPoll: Former AG Lynch should be investigated OPINION: Dear media, Americans don't care about Obama's legacy Gowdy won't use Oversight gavel to probe Russia MORE—” he said before Chaffetz declared him out of order.

Chaffetz demanded that ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), who has introduced legislation to establish an independent commission on the matter, answer directly whether he supported a probe into the DCCC hack in Oversight.

“I think the thing that I’m most concerned about is that we cannot just turn a blind eye when we have 17 intelligence agencies who unanimously agree [that Russia interfered in the U.S. elections],” Cummings said. “You and I know what happened with the Benghazi Committee — it became a partisan fight.”

“The gentleman’s time is expired here. You’re going well outside the scope of this discussion—” an impatient Chaffetz cut in.

“I’m not. No, I’m not. I would pray that you not — don’t do that,” Cummings shot back.

The committee’s two leading members continued to talk over one another.

“I just want an answer to a simple question—” Chaffetz said.

“I’ve answered it. I’ve told you, yes,” Cummings said.

“I’m gonna ask one more time—”

“I just answered you—” a visibly annoyed Cummings snapped. “I just answered you. You’re not listening!”

Officials from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the National Background Investigations Bureau and the Defense Department, invited to testify on improving security and efficiency at the OPM and the bureau, sat quietly through the back-and-forth, sipping coffee.

Lawmakers tried to patch things up later in the hearing, after a sharp admonishment on civility from freshman Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.).

“What I did not sign up for is what I believe is the blatant disrespect that was displayed to each other by my colleagues,” she said.

From there, the hearing found its way back to the topic at hand.

House Democrats have pushed to expand investigations into a widespread influence campaign intelligence officials say Russia launched as an attempt to help install President Trump in the White House.

Republicans have insisted that any probe into the matter be limited to the two Intelligence committees. Both of those investigations are ongoing, but the move has been seen as an attempt to sweep the issue under the rug by keeping it sequestered in the two notoriously-secretive panels. 

All House Democrats have backed a bill from Cummings and Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) to establish an independent group modeled after the 9/11 Commission to study the campaign.