Why does Congress keep playing political games on FBI oversight?

Why does Congress keep playing political games on FBI oversight?
© Anna Moneymaker

The testimony of FBI agent Peter Strzok last week provided a sharp contrast between how serious investigations should be conducted, and how they can quickly break down and become ineffective. The purported goal of the joint investigation by the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees is to review the performance of the FBI and the Justice Department with respect to the 2016 presidential election. It is hard to deny that the FBI has suffered a steady stream of missteps that have shaken the faith of many Americans in our top law enforcement agency.

These include the way former FBI director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyMisfired 'Hurricane': Comey's team abused Carter Page and the FBI Trump rebukes FBI chief Wray over inspector general's Russia inquiry The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - Democrats to release articles of impeachment today MORE handled the Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump trade deal likely to sow division in Democratic presidential field Trump supporters at Pa. rally 'upset' after Democrats introduce impeachment articles Hillary Clinton documentary to premiere at Sundance MORE email investigation and his decision to indirectly leak government memos to the New York Times, the firing of former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabeAndrew George McCabeMcCabe: Being accused of treason by Trump 'quite honestly terrifying' Horowitz report is damning for the FBI and unsettling for the rest of us Fox's Chris Wallace: IG report headline is 'It didn't find the things that Bill Barr and Donald Trump alleged' MORE for sharing information with the Wall Street Journal and then lying about it to investigators, and the thousands of text messages exchanged over months by Strzok and FBI attorney Lisa Page demeaning candidate Donald Trump and his supporters.

The House committees have a prime opportunity to conduct a bipartisan and professional investigation to collect the facts, put them into context, look for constructive ways to enact reforms, and prevent similar issues from reoccurring. A model for this is the Justice Department inspector general report issued by Michael Horowitz. Containing hundreds of pages of factual findings, interview results, and clear conclusions, the IG report shows what a fulsome investigation entails.

Thanks to the IG, the public learned of the text messages between Strzok and Page, and the fact that special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerTrump says he'll release financial records before election, knocks Dems' efforts House impeachment hearings: The witch hunt continues Speier says impeachment inquiry shows 'very strong case of bribery' by Trump MORE removed Strzok from the Russia probe once he learned of them. We also know that, despite the IG describing in scathing terms the damage that Strzok and Page did to the reputation of the FBI and its independence, he did not find that their personal political views impacted their decisions. The IG demonstrated examples of thorough, nonpartisan, dispassionate fact finding, and should have effectively ended the matter.

Another example is that of Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillGinsburg health scare raises prospect of election year Supreme Court battle MSNBC's McCaskill: Trump used 'his fat thumbs' to try to intimidate Yovanovitch GOP senator rips into Pelosi at Trump rally: 'It must suck to be that dumb' MORE, the ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, who recently conducted a thorough investigation about the impact of the opioid crisis on her home state of Missouri. Like the IG investigation, her report is the product of fair and unbiased hearings, careful review of tens of thousands of documents, and a true effort to address the issues. It reads as an honest fact finding study, as every investigation should, and as I and many other former federal prosecutors are taught to strive for, regardless of the client on whose behalf we are working.

Rather than follow these models, the House committees opted to haul Strzok before them for multiple days to repeatedly revisit the issue of his alleged bias against President TrumpDonald John TrumpRepublicans consider skipping witnesses in Trump impeachment trial Bombshell Afghanistan report bolsters calls for end to 'forever wars' Lawmakers dismiss Chinese retaliatory threat to US tech MORE. Instead of applying a careful investigative approach, Republicans in the majority seemed primarily intent on using the Strzok hearing to cast doubt on the FBI and the Mueller investigation. The minority Democrats, understandably frustrated, did themselves few favors by veering too far in the opposite direction by heaping praise on Strzok. They likely would have been more effective had they simply issued a statement condemning the hearing and walked out.

These are serious times that call for serious oversight. The House committees had a prime opportunity to conduct a real hearing, sort out true issues versus distractions, and focus on restoring confidence in the FBI and another serious investigation, which is that of the special counsel into Russian meddling with our American election system.

We know the Russian government conducted active measures to interfere in the 2016 election. The intelligence community, the House, and the Senate have all confirmed this. We know that Mueller has conducted a professional investigation that has borne more fruit with indictments of Russian intelligence officers for hacking networks and email accounts related to the Democratic Party. We know the special counsel team has secured guilty pleas relating to multiple individuals associated with the Trump campaign for lying about their interactions with Russians.

Mueller must be permitted to complete his work and get to the bottom of what happened in the 2016 election. Tearing down confidence in the FBI and the special counsel does nothing but undermine this goal. If lawmakers are so politically charged that they are unable to conduct meaningful oversight, then Congress is better off stepping aside and letting the investigative process unfold and the chips fall where they may.

Joseph Moreno is a former federal prosecutor with the Department of Justice, a former staff member with the 9/11 Review Commission, and a United States Army combat veteran. He is now a litigation attorney with Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft. Follow him on Twitter @JosephMoreno.