Forget about the House intelligence committee when it comes to investigating whether Russia stuck its snout into our election. The panel, as led by its Republican chairman, Devin Nunes of California, with the support of GOP leadership, has lost any credibility now and in the future.
Nunes has capitulated to President Trump, in whose pre-election camp he was an early riser, and seems to have no intention of letting the Russian connection bring down his hero’s presidency. Meanwhile, Speaker Paul Ryan and others of the House Republican hierarchy have already poured enough whitewash on the committee to satisfy Tom Sawyer’s Aunt Polly for the rest of her life.
In 50-some years of watching the political passing parade in this town, I have never seen a more brazenly dishonest performance by a committee chairman. Even if he decides ultimately to recuse himself from leading the inquiry that now may or may not happen, the damage has been done, with the smell of dishonesty indelibly imprinted on the public nostrils.
What an unbelievable performance. Only a sap would swallow Nunes’ cloak-and-dagger research, which is obviously aimed at helping the Donald show that Barack Obama wiretapped his telephones — an allegation not supported by evidence, denied by everyone, and clearly designed to both back up the new president and obscure the Russian investigation. The congressman claims he had a secret nighttime meeting on the White House grounds with a source who said there was incidental surveillance of Trump by an official agency eavesdropping on someone else.
Was the meeting with one of the uniform Secret Service guards who prowl the grounds? Was it a bunny getting ready for the April Easter egg roll? Or has that too been canceled like so many other traditions? Maybe it was some guy with kind of orange, goofy hair.
What we do now know is that three well-placed White House aides compiled the material Nunes was presented.
The House, except for impeachment, never has been good in delving into possible scandals of this size. Members who face election every two years are too vulnerable to partisan influence. The Senate is a far better venue for getting at the truth and putting pressure on those who will. The leaders of the bipartisan Senate intelligence committee — Republican and Democrat — have pledged to put differences aside to work together on the disturbing allegations of foreign influence in our electoral process. That’s nice to hear, since things haven’t always worked that way in the Senate. (Democratic leaders notoriously successfully pulled every string possible in saving then Vice President Lyndon Johnson in the notorious Bobby Baker case in the 1960s.) The six-year length of a Senate term provides a better cushion from partisan discipline and the ability to take a longer look at the evidence.
The model for modern bipartisan Senate investigations of this magnitude was the Watergate Committee with Democratic Chairman Sam Ervin of North Carolina and Republican Vice Chairman Howard Baker of Tennessee sharing responsibilities equitably. Although the target, Richard Nixon, was of his party, the most famous line came from Baker, who set the tone by stating that it was the committee’s responsibility to determine, “What did the president know and when did he know it?” Nixon’s ultimate resignation turned on that point.
The main complication of the Russian investigation, of course, is that it is considerably far more serious in its implications than anything yet seen. Even Nixon’s fall dealt with less threatening circumstances. That was a domestic challenge to the sanctity of the electoral process. These allegations, if true, would forever raise concerns about the security of our elections from disruption by a foreign power. To be a bit melodramatic, images of the “Manchurian Candidate” appear.
Even if a clear conclusion can’t be reached, Americans need to know that every attempt possible was fairly and honestly made to determine the truth.
Impossible? Perhaps. But with guys like Nunes around, perseverance and a proof of diligence are the only answers.
Dan Thomasson is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service and a former vice president of Scripps Howard Newspapers. Readers may send him email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.