[Firing Jeff Sessions could spark a ‘Wednesday Afternoon
Massacre,’ one Democrat on the intelligence committee says ]
[https://portside.org/] 

 HOUSE INTEL DEMOCRATS’ NEW MISSION: PROTECT MUELLER, USE SUBPOENA
POWER  
[https://portside.org/2018-11-07/house-intel-democrats-new-mission-protect-mueller-use-subpoena-power]


 

 Betsy Woodruff, Spencer Ackerman 
 November 7, 2018
The Daily Beast
[https://www.thedailybeast.com/house-intel-democrats-new-mission-protect-mueller-use-subpoena-power]


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 _ Firing Jeff Sessions could spark a ‘Wednesday Afternoon
Massacre,’ one Democrat on the intelligence committee says _ 

 , Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast 

 

Devin Nunes broke the House intelligence committee. The Democrats who
are about to take it over consider putting it back together to be
almost as big a challenge as investigating President Trump’s ties to
Russia.

The day after the Democrats won a majority in the House of
Representatives, three members of the committee outlined a list of
priorities for what’s become one of the highest-profile perches in
Congress. They told The Daily Beast they’re ready to subpoena the
documents and witnesses relevant to Russia that current House intel
committee chairman Rep. Nunes (R-CA) wouldn’t, particularly those
that may shed light on the intersection of Russian money and Trump
allies’ wallets.

And, along with the rest of the Democratic caucus, they have another
urgent task: protecting special prosecutor Robert Mueller now
that Trump has fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions
[https://www.thedailybeast.com/attorney-general-jeff-sessions-out-after-a-year-of-threats-from-president-trump?ref=home].

“I think there’s a potential of a Wednesday Afternoon Massacre,
and we’re not going to tolerate it,” one of the committee’s
Democrats, Jackie Speier of California, told The Daily Beast,
referring to Richard Nixon’s cascade of Justice Department firings
during Watergate.

“This is a democracy, not an autocracy. The Senate has got to grow a
backbone [and] put a check on [Trump’s] executive maniacal efforts
to get rid of something that he does not want to have going on.”

Hours before Trump fired Sessions, another of the panel’s Democrats,
Mike Quigley of Illinois, told The Daily Beast he was “concerned
about what [Trump and his allies will] do in the lame duck” session
to obstruct Mueller’s inquiry. Protecting Mueller is “among the
highest priorities,” Quigley said, vowing that if Trump acts to
constrain Mueller’s Russia inquiry, “we’ll be ready… I think
the House needs to move forward as soon as it possibly can” with a
long-stymied bill to preserve Mueller’s independence.

Additionally, those Democrats also sounded eager to get back to a
pre-Trump status quo ante, in which the House intelligence panel was
comparatively united across party lines in a rancorous Congress and
focused on examining the intelligence agencies’ approaches to
premiere security threats. Critics, often with justification, think
the panel adopts the intelligence agencies’ prerogatives instead of
restricting their substantial powers to spy and kill. While the
committee Democrats say they intend to scrutinize the agencies in the
era of Trump, a major test for the new Democratic-run panel will be
which of the contradictory definitions of “oversight” the
intelligence committee will practice.

Russia: Follow The Money

Committee members told The Daily Beast that they may revisit the
now-defunct probe into potential coordination between the Russian
government and Trump associates during the 2016 presidential campaign.
But Rep. Jim Himes, a Connecticut Democrat on the committee, said any
such probe will be in a “holding pattern” until Mueller—who’s
investigating the same matter under the auspices of the Justice
Department, at least for now—releases more information to Congress.
Himes said members don’t want to inadvertently butt heads with
Mueller's team.

“It would be pretty foolish of us to come out with a lot of definite
plans until we have a better sense of what Mueller has done,” Himes
said. “We don’t want a duplicate effort, and we certainly don’t
want to get in his way. And oh, by the way, we’ve got a lot of
fundamental strategizing to do in the coming weeks.”

Quigley told The Daily Beast that the committee Democrats’ approach
to Trump-Russia will “look more like regular oversight” than a
reestablished formal inquiry. Starting in January, the panel’s new
majority will examine where the “gaps” are between Mueller’s
inquiry, the one done by the Senate intelligence committee, and the
neutered House one. “It’s not starting over, it’s assessing
where we are, and what gaps exist in the investigation,” Quigley
said.

Last year, Quigley visited Cyprus
[https://quigley.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/quigley-statement-recent-cyprus-visit] to
investigate Russian money laundering. Illicit cash potentially passing
through Trump’s campaign or businesses is likely to be a restored
focus of the panel, he indicated. With its record of being fined
[https://money.cnn.com/2017/01/31/investing/deutsche-bank-us-fine-russia-money-laundering/index.html] for
its role in laundering money, and its longstanding relationship with
Trump, “Deutsche Bank seems like an obvious point of
investigation,” Quigley said.

“We need to undertake a legitimate investigation of Russian
interference .”
— Rep. Jackie Speier

Speier anticipated an aggressive resumption of efforts to examine
Trump. “The report the intelligence committee did [under Nunes] was
illegitimate,” she said. “We need to undertake a legitimate
investigation of Russian interference to gauge to what extent the
Trump campaign was engaged in working, in a conspiratorial fashion,
with Russian operatives and to understand more clearly the Russian
engagement in Trump properties.”

The committee won’t “retread that area” that’s already
covered, Speier said. But she noted that the panel at one point had a
bipartisan agreement to subpoena documents that never manifested, and
some 30 witnesses Democrats wanted to interview didn’t materialize.

Going forward, “I’m not willing to say this is dotting i’s and
crossing t’s,” Speier said. “A legitimate investigation is going
to require us to dig deeper. I really believe there was something
sinister, when all is said and done.”

Intelligence Oversight Post-Nunes

Democrats also said they want to reset the committee’s relationship
with the intelligence agencies.

Nunes accomplished something previously unthinkable. He became a
Republican House intelligence chairman—typically, one of the best
friends a spy agency has on Capitol Hill —whom intelligence
officials considered an unfunny joke. Before Nunes, the committee was
instinctively bipartisan and all but supine before the prerogatives of
the intelligence agencies it oversees. Republican chairman Mike Rogers
and ranking Democrat Dutch Ruppersberger were interchangeable in their
lockstep defense of the National Security Agency after Edward
Snowden’s 2013 surveillance revelations.

But Nunes turned the panel into a cudgel to protect the White House.
As former intelligence officials didn’t hide their contempt for
Trump [https://twitter.com/Evan_McMullin/status/1060268688207699968],
Nunes skipped over due diligence of the intelligence agencies for
hysterical depictions of a conspiracy against Trump at the FBI and
Justice Department
[https://www.thedailybeast.com/fbi-scrambling-to-get-more-info-on-explosive-nunes-memo-ahead-of-vote-to-release-it].
Many American intelligence officials detested Nunes, seeing him as an
arm of the Trump administration who traded vital oversight for
political theater. Nunes’ decision to release a misleading
Republican-authored memo decrying surveillance of a former Trump
campaign adviser long tied to Russian intelligence
[https://www.thedailybeast.com/republicans-wont-say-if-spying-on-carter-page-was-wrong] left
the intelligence services seething. Nunes, in their estimation,
jeopardized some of their most closely held secrets in an effort to do
media-ready damage control about Russian election interference.

Now that they’re about to take over, Democrats say they hope to
alleviate some of that acrimony. The GOP committee “leadership began
to attack the intelligence community to protect the president. That
fracture has to be repaired,” Quigley said.

At the same time, members say they worry the Trump administration has
permitted the agencies’ free rein for their lethal counterterrorism
capabilities.

“In my opinion, congressional oversight is even more important than
it was under Obama, because some of the carefully crafted constraints
on the community—many of which can’t be talked about
publicly—have been loosened by the Trump administration,” said
Rep. Jim Himes, a Connecticut Democrat on the committee.

Trump has long been rumored
[https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/21/us/politics/trump-drone-strikes-commando-raids-rules.html] to
have scrapped Obama-era rules on drone strikes and counterterrorism
raids that required “near certainty” that civilians wouldn’t be
killed
[https://www.thedailybeast.com/family-says-theyre-innocent-victims-of-trumps-drone-war] and
those marked for execution posed a “continuing and imminent
threat” to Americans. (Those rules dubiously constrained
[https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jul/01/obama-continue-signature-strikes-drones-civilian-deaths] the
Obama-era CIA and military.) Last year, the White House ignored
[https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/white-house-ignores-executive-order-requiring-count-of-civilian-casualties-in-counterterrorism-strikes/2018/05/01/2268fe40-4d4f-11e8-af46-b1d6dc0d9bfe_story.html?utm_term=.2b8d957efe01] disclosure
requirements on civilian casualties and escalated counterterrorism
air strikes
[https://www.thedailybeast.com/president-trumps-air-war-kills-12-civilians-per-day],
particularly on the undeclared battlefields of Yemen and Somalia
[https://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/stories/2017-12-19/counterrorism-strikes-double-trump-first-year].

Another potential venue for oversight, according to a source familiar
with Committee Democrats’ thinking: Wikileaks––and specifically,
how American spies handle it. In April 2017, then-CIA Director Mike
Pompeo likened the anti-secrecy organization to a “hostile
intelligence service
[https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/13/us/politics/mike-pompeo-cia-wikileaks.html].”
The source pointed out that American spies regularly surveil hostile
foreign intelligence services. And since U.S. persons are affiliated
with Wikileaks, any potential surveillance of the organization could
run afoul of civil liberties protections
[https://www.thedailybeast.com/senators-try-to-force-trump-admin-to-declare-wikileaks-a-hostile-spy-service].

“We have an obligation to look behind the curtain, because sometimes
we’re only being told what they want to tell us,” Speier said of
the intelligence agencies. “It’s a combination of providing the
resources they need do their job, directing them in a manner that
doesn’t violate our values or the Constitution, and making sure the
intelligence we are getting is worthy of a country as powerful as we
are. Sometimes I think our intelligence is not as good as the
intelligence in other countries that we rely on.” But the unlikely
era in which the intelligence agencies are, in Speier’s term,
“besmirched” by their legislative overseers appears over.

The Committee v. the White House—And Itself

Panel Democrats, relegated to the sidelines of an epochal
counterintelligence investigation, are champing at the bit to use
their new subpoena powers. Under Nunes, a host of White House
officials paraded before the committee for interviews about Russian
interference. And many, including Steve Bannon and Hope Hicks, invoked
executive privilege to dodge tough questions, even invoking privilege
for conversations that happened before Trump’s inauguration and with
people other than the president.

“Witnesses in front of us asserted executive privilege for things
that occurred during the transition, for conversations that had
nothing to do with advising the president,” Himes said. “And while
it’s a little esoteric, that was a massive incursion to Congress’
prerogatives.”

He added: “At the end of the day, the Republicans need to ask
themselves: When they next drag in a member of a Democratic
administration, do they want that Democratic administration-person
asserting the same wild-eyed executive privilege that Steve Bannon
asserted?”

“I think it’s incumbent on us to do everything we can to protect
Mueller.”
 — Rep. Jackie Speier

It’s unclear if the White House’s biggest ally on the committee,
Nunes, is going to stay on as ranking member. Nunes’ spokesperson
didn’t respond to a Daily Beast inquiry, as the reelected California
Republican has all but ceased addressing mainstream journalists. Yet
Schiff showed that even a minority without subpoena power can exercise
real influence.

But Quigley thinks Nunes’ “damage is done,” he told The Daily
Beast. “He did his damage, he stymied the [Russia] investigation and
shut it down. He worked hand in glove with the White House to limit
our [investigative] abilities. I don’t see how he has those
abilities when we’re in the majority.” Speier agreed: “It’s
hard to subvert [the committee] when you’re in the minority.”

A Republican lobbyist who works on intelligence and national security
issues told The Daily Beast he thinks Schiff will restore a measure of
comity on the committee. “Adam Schiff will do everything he can to
bring back the bipartisanship on that committee,” the lobbyist said.
“As long as Devin Nunes is ranking member, it’s going to be hard
to do. But I don’t believe Adam Schiff is a partisan.”

Quigley conceded that “it’s going to take time” to restore
committee bipartisanship. And its success is by no means assured in
the Trump era. But “you can’t not try,” he said.

For House Democrats, and the hashtag-resistance cheering them on, the
intelligence committee is about to become a choice assignment, both
for reelected members and the freshman class–a class that includes
two former CIA officials, Virginia’s Abigail Spanberger and
Michigan’s Elissa Slotkin. Once the Democrats expand their presence
on the panel, a perk of being in the majority, jockeying to get a spot
is likely to be intense.

“The last two years showed the rest of the caucus how important it
is. The visibility dramatically increased,” Quigley said. “I
expect a tremendous amount of interest.”

But all that is taking a backseat now that the peril to Mueller’s
inquiry appears imminent.

“I think it’s incumbent on us to do everything we can to protect
Mueller,” Speier said. “This is our democracy at stake here.”

_Betsy Woodruff [https://www.thedailybeast.com/author/betsy-woodruff]
is a political reporter for the Daily Beast and formerly of Slate
and National Review. You can follow her on Twitter @woodruffbets
[http://www.twitter.com/woodruffbets]. Send her tips via email,
encrypted email or via Daily Best tips
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You can also use our anonymous document submission system,
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[https://www.thedailybeast.com/tips]._

_Spencer Ackerman
[https://www.thedailybeast.com/author/spencer-ackerman]is a senior
national security correspondent for The Daily Beast. The former U.S.
national security editor for the Guardian, Ackerman was part of the
Pulitzer Prize-winning team reporting on Edward Snowden's surveillance
revelations. Send him tips via email, encrypted email, or via Daily
Beast tips. 212-445-4516 (office), or 202-294-9523
(mobile/Signal/WhatsApp/Telegram). You can also use our anonymous
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[https://www.thedailybeast.com/tips]._

_The Daily Beast is going deeper on the stories that matter to you.
Join us. [https://www.thedailybeast.com/membership]_

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