Guest Editorial: House Intelligence Committee is not playing politics
No agency or department of the U.S. government has unlimited power, but enforcing and maintaining the limits on power is often easier said than done.
One example of this is the fight between House Republicans and top officials at the FBI and Department of Justice over documents that Congress has been demanding for months.
Three congressional committees are conducting two investigations in the FBI and DOJ's handling of investigations into both presidential candidates in 2016. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the Judiciary Committee are looking into the FBI's actions in the Clinton email and Trump-Russia investigations. The House intelligence Committee has a separate probe into the Trump-Russia investigation and is also looking at possible foreign intelligence surveillance abuses.
A little over a week ago, the chairmen of the three committees and House Speaker Paul Ryan called FBI Director Christopher Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to a meeting and went item by item through the subpoenaed documents that had not been turned over to Congress.
Then Ryan explained how it was going to be: The FBI and DOJ were going to comply with the subpoena requests by Friday, June 22, or they were going to see the full constitutional arsenal of Congress' power unleashed against them.
The Constitution gives Congress the power to impeach and remove from office not only the president, but the vice president, all federal judges and all civil officers of the United States. Inherent in the power to impeach is the power to investigate. Although any number of privileges have been claimed as good cause to refuse to comply with congressional subpoenas, there is nothing in the Constitution about any such privileges.
Push came to shove at that meeting, with Ryan vowing that there would be total compliance or there would be action on the House floor. Even short of impeachment, Wray and Rosenstein were likely looking at charges of contempt of Congress. The House has the power to jail people over that. Although it hasn't happened in a long time, it's one of the powers in the constitutional arsenal.
Right on the Friday deadline, the files began arriving on Capitol Hill and continued to arrive late into the night. But key material was missing. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes fired off a letter to the Department of Justice giving a new deadline of 5 p.m. on Monday.
The Justice Department says it is doing its best to fulfill the requests, but House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Virginia, noted that the DOJ turned over 1.2 million documents to its own inspector general, Michael Horowitz, but has given Congress only "a fraction" of that material. Horowitz has completed his investigation into the handling of the Clinton email probe and is now looking into whether bias on the part of top FBI investigators was a factor in the Trump-Russia investigation.
"We're not waiting," Goodlatte said over the weekend. "We're conducting that investigation ourselves in the meantime."
Although House Democrats have complained that the Republican committee chairmen are playing politics with intelligence, nobody is playing. Every agency of the federal government answers to the American people. This is what it looks like when it's happening.
Orange County Register, June 25