I’m not going to be dishonest and tell you that I have faith that the congressional Intelligence committees, which are both controlled by the Republicans, are going to do an honest investigation of Trump’s ties to the Russians. At the same time, though, it’s going to be tricky for them to handle if they unearth troubling information.
There are a few advantages to doing this in the Intelligence committees rather than a special select investigatory body or through a special prosecutor. On the plus side, the Intelligence committee members and their staffs already have the clearances they need and some basic familiarity with the issues and sensitivities involved. The committees are partisan, but less so than any other committees. They can get started quicker and have a better chance of working with some common purpose than we’d likely see with the alternative scenarios.
On the minus side, most Intelligence hearings are closed to the public, and it’s easier to arrange things so the Democrats feel constrained by the rules of classification against speaking about what they learn. It should be easier to limit the scope of the investigation without inviting outrage.
The Democrats’ main leverage is that it won’t be worth much if the committees issue a final report that they don’t support. The Republicans will try, if possible, to run things in a way that doesn’t immediately alienate the Democratic members and their staff.
There are some signs that it won’t be possible to keep things tightly under wraps.
Moderate Republican Susan Collins, who sits on the Intelligence panel, told Maine Public Wednesday that she wants Flynn to testify. With an 8-7 split between Republicans and Democrats, her vote could be pivotal. She even sounded open to the possibility of looking at Trump’s tax returns as part of the probe…
…”We will get to the bottom of this,” Collins told Maine Public. “I will encourage that there’ll be some public hearings as well as the closed hearings that we’re doing now, and that we issue a report.”
“We’re not,” she added, ”going to exclude anyone from our review.”
The Bloomberg article I’m referencing here mentions that Sens. Tom Cotton and Marco Rubio are taking a tough line on Russia, but I don’t see them as likely problems for the administration. They may want to use the hearings to influence policy, but they won’t want to take the administration down entirely. I believe Susan Collins is a potential headache for them because she’s probably half-considering bolting the GOP as it stands, and she carries a swing-vote that can determine whether the Democrats are empowered or neutered. If the GOP leans too hard on her, she could fall right in Chuck Schumer’s lap.
These are some of the reasons why I think the Senate investigation is more dangerous than the House one.
Overall, this is a shitty way to investigate these issues and I fully expect a whitewash. If there is any hope, it’s that the lead Democrat on the Senate panel, Mark Warner of Virginia, says that this investigation will be the most important thing he’s ever done in the Senate. If he’s that motivated, he’ll be a more powerful force than people might expect. He’s basically the Intelligence Community’s senator, as most of them live in his state, and he’ll be hard to keep in the dark.
The fact that he’s been more cooperative with Trump, on confirmations for example, than most Democrats will give him added credibility and make his complaints resonate a little better.
I guess the GOP’s biggest problem is that the Intelligence Community is rife with people who do not like Trump and do not trust his staff. They’re going to make it very hard to stifle this investigation.
So, the setup here is far from ideal and basically designed to coverup more than it reveals. But things could get interesting nonetheless.