Former DNC chair Donna Brazile has written a scathing op-ed for Politico, attacking investigators for failing to uncover ties between Russia and the Trump administration.
The former CNN contributor who was forced to quit after she was caught feeding debate questions to Hillary Clinton last year, complains that the lack of juicy scandals coming out of the investigation has deeply disappointed her.
It seems like nobody is doing anything about it. Worse—they’re pretending that they are. There are currently multiple investigations into the Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible involvement by the Trump campaign. But all of them are compromised to one degree or another by incompetence, listlessness and deliberate foot-dragging. Congress is completely failing to live up to its responsibilities for oversight and to function as a separate and co-equal branch of government. Partisan politics has poisoned inquiries on both the House and Senate side.
We can only hope the FBI investigation is being conducted in a thorough manner. Unless a special prosecutor is appointed to oversee the process, we can only assume that conducting a proper investigation under those auspices may be a fraught affair despite Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recusing himself from investigations involving the 2016 campaign.
We need an independent investigation. And we need it now.
And the American people want it. In a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, 73 percent of Americans say they prefer an independent, nonpartisan probe to investigate Russian involvement in the election rather than Congress. Sixty-one percent say they have little to no confidence that Congress can conduct a fair and impartial investigation into the 2016 election. As we shall see, their doubts seem to be well-founded.
Oh, did I mention the “probe” that President Trump promised to conduct? In January, he promised to have a crack team tackle the problem of cybersecurity in the wake of the Russian hacks. He said he would have “a plan within 90 days of taking office.” Obviously, that deadline came and went—and not only is there no plan, there’s no team and absolutely no evidence that Trump’s promise was anything but empty bluster. And now, the president is falsely claiming that he had “never heard of WikiLeaks” before they started releasing stolen emails and had never supported them after repeatedly crowing on the campaign trail, “I love WikiLeaks.” Sadly, that fiasco is only slightly more laughable than the probes being conducted by the Senate and the House.
We all watched in fascinated horror as the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russian meddling imploded in a slow-motion disaster involving White House officials’ comical attempt to furnish Committee Chaiman Devin Nunes with backup for President Trump’s ridiculous claims about President Barack Obama “wiretapping” him. Nunes has stepped aside from the Russia probe, but is now being investigated by the House Ethics Committee.
The House Committee has actually begun to schedule both open and closed hearings again. But the best hope for a credible investigation seemed to lie with the Senate Intelligence Committee under the leadership of Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and ranking member Mark Warner (D-Va.), who kicked off the committee’s public hearings just weeks ago with a heartening show of bipartisanship.
But recent reporting by Yahoo’s Michael Isikoff, among others, indicates that little progress has been made in the committee’s work. Three months after that hopeful launch, the Senate Committee has almost nothing to show to show for its efforts, if indeed there have been any efforts. The committee hasn’t interviewed any of the central players, according to Isikoff, despite the fact that several have volunteered to come forward. Not a single subpoena has been issued for documents, emails or phone records. And Burr has not responded to members’ requests that he do so.
Many Democrats on the committee are criticizing Warner for being too reluctant to pressure Burr in order to maintain the veneer of bipartisanship. Warner has pushed back against the criticism and called for patience, but that veneer is pointless if the committee isn’t interviewing central witnesses or can’t get together to issue subpoenas.
Part of the problem is that the panel doesn’t have enough staffers to do anything. The Daily Beast pointed out that there are currently only seven staffers working on the Senate investigation—all of them part-time! One of them even has to balance investigative duties with attending law school part-time. It was heartening that the committee this week—after the Yahoo and Daily Beast stories—announced the hiring of April Doss, a respected former lawyer for the National Security Agency, as a special counsel. But to put things into perspective, Politics USA points out that the House Benghazi Committee had 46 staffers and 8 interns. The special commission looking into Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction had 88 staffers, and a joint House-Senate probe of Iran-Contra had 181 staffers. In short, if the Senate Intelligence Committee is our last, best hope, then we have very little hope. And we desperately need hope.
Every day, new elements of this disaster come to light. We just learned that Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, possibly broke the law by not disclosing monies he got from Russia. But the White House refuses to turn over documents about its vetting of Flynn—and that’s assuming it even did any. The information about Flynn came from the House Oversight Committee. But these facts emerge haphazardly, and forces are constantly at work to suppress them.
Congress should be ashamed of its seeming inability to get to the bottom of Russia’s interference in our democracy. An independent commission needs to be established without delay. In the meantime, both intelligence committees need to stop dragging their feet and start taking their jobs with the seriousness the moment requires.