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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 ComeyThe FBI should turn off the FARA faucet Barr threatened to resign over Trump attempts to fire Wray: report 'Fox News Sunday' to mark 25 years on air MORE handled the Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDemocrats say it's up to GOP to stop Trump 2024 Hillary Clinton to speak at Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders summit More than half of eligible Latinos voted in 2020, setting record 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 McCabeThe FBI should turn off the FARA faucet John Durham's endgame: Don't expect criminal charges Carter Page sues over surveillance related to Russia probe 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.

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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) MuellerSenate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel 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 McCaskillMissouri Republicans move to block Greitens in key Senate race Democratic Kansas City, Mo., mayor eyes Senate run Demings asked about Senate run after sparring with Jordan on police funding 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 TrumpVirginia GOP gubernatorial nominee acknowledges Biden was 'legitimately' elected Biden meets with DACA recipients on immigration reform Overnight Health Care: States begin lifting mask mandates after new CDC guidance | Walmart, Trader Joe's will no longer require customers to wear masks | CDC finds Pfizer, Moderna vaccines 94 percent effective in health workers 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.