The name the U.S Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has given to its inquiry into the Kremlin’s operation to undermine the 2016 presidential election is the investigation into “Russian Intelligence Activities.”
Curious, then, that Republican senators on the committee seemed little interested in Russian intelligence activities in today’s hearings, instead using almost all of their time attacking American intelligence community activities. GOP senator after GOP senator took their turn at the mic and failed to ask the witnesses, former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates and former Director of the CIA James Clapper, about Russia.
No questions asking the witnesses to clarity Michael Flynn’s undisclosed contacts with Russian officials. No inquiries into White House Chief Strategist Stephen Bannon’s role at Breitbart and a data analytics agency that were both conduits, allegedly, for a Russian ‘bot’ attack that spread fake news on social media. Not a single GOP senator asked Ms. Yates to explain what she told the Trump administration about Michael Flynn, and when. Only Democratic Senators seemed at all interested in getting to the bottom of the committee’s titular focus of “Russian Intelligence activities.”
Instead, Republicans on the committee wanted to know what the witnesses thought about leaks coming from the U.S. intelligence community that appeared in the press, as well as any ‘unmasking’ or ‘incidental surveillance’ that may have occurred on unsuspecting Trump associates illegally.
Senator Lindsey Graham (D-SC) began by asking Ms. Yates or Mr. Clapper if they’d seen any evidence that proved “conclusively” that the President or anyone on his campaign collaborated with Russia to steal the election. Sen. Graham knows full well that both witnesses have been out of government for months and would not have access to any new information the FBI may have uncovered.
He then spent the bulk of his time on leaks and incidental collection of intelligence, asking at one point, “How did the conversation between the Russian ambassador and Mr. Flynn make it to the Washington Post?” Later he asked, “Was there any incidental collection, where our intelligence community collects information, involving a presidential candidate on either side of the aisle during 2015 or 2016?” Both witness answered, “No.”
Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) made no attempt to even appear concerned with Russia. Right out of the gate, he zeroed-in on the leaks with his very first question, asking the former CIA director, “Mr. Clapper – you said that you’ve never exposed classified information in an inappropriate manner. As far as you know, has any classified information relating to Mr. Trump or his associates been declassified and shared with the media?”
Clapper and Yates both answered, “Not to my knowledge.” Sen Grassley pressed on. “OK. Next question; have either of you ever been an anonymous source in a news report about matters relating to Mr. Trump, his associates or Russia’s attempt to meddle in the election?” Clapper answered “No,” and Yates, “Absolutely not.”
And so the exchange went on for another few minutes.
After a long diatribe about unmasking and intelligence collection, Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) finally reached his first question for the witnesses, asking, “So when it comes to incidental collection on an American person, and that is unmasked at the request of some appropriate authority, can you describe, briefly, the paper trail and the series — and the approval process that is required in order to allow that to happen? That’s not a trivial matter, is it?”
Before taking a bizarre turn off-topic and attacking former acting Attorney General Yates for her refusal to implement the President’s Muslim travel ban – that act that ostensibly got her fired – Cornyn opined, “…I think it’s really important that, in order to determine who actually requested the unmasking, and in order to establish whether appropriate procedures were undertaken under both legislative oversight and judicial oversight, that we determine what that paper trail is and follow it.”
Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) wasn’t concerned with Russia at all, either, opening his cross examination by asking Mr. Clapper directly, “what would you do, if you discovered that an employee of yours had forwarded hundreds or even thousands of e-mails to a non-government individual, their spouse, on a non-government computer?”
It’s clear Republicans are dead-set on covering-up the President’s ties to Russia by running interference in congress and shifting the conversation to the leaks whenever and where ever possible. Just in case that doesn’t work, they intend to attack Sally Yates’ credibility and paint her as a partisan Obama ally out to undermine Trump.
It won’t work.
The Washington Post published the entire transcript of today’s hearing, which you can read here.
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Peter Mellado is a writer, producer, and a branding and messaging specialist with over 15 years experience. He studied history at San Jose State University, and resides in Los Angeles.