Senate committee makes big mess


By Jonathan Bernstein

Bloomberg View

The Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing on Russia featuring Sally Yates and James Clapper demonstrated why the Senate really needs a select committee appointed to handle the investigation.

There were good points to the hearing: Republicans Lindsey Graham and Ben Sasse asked good questions, as did several Democrats. But the rest of the Republicans almost entirely ignored the topic of the hearing.

Some focused on Donald Trump’s first travel ban, which Yates opposed when she was acting attorney general. Some focused on questions of “unmasking” and on potential media leaks. And Ted Cruz, naturally, asked about Hillary Clinton’s emails.

Democrats did better, but some of them were more interested in partisan gamesmanship than putting facts on the record and pushing the witnesses to clarify their testimony.

Format

The problem is the format. Large committees (or subcommittees, in this case) lead to everyone asking (sometimes repetitive) questions; the goal for individual senators is to make a fuss during their questions, not to try to get at the truth. And the investigation ping-pongs around, with this subcommittee calling these witnesses today and other panels calling other witnesses at other times, without any rhyme or reason.

The solution is still a small Senate select committee similar in size, scope and resources to the Watergate committee. Such a committee could carefully lay out all that we already know: Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election, along with already-clear malfeasance by some Trump people, certainly including former national security adviser Michael Flynn. And it could dig further to nail down the information we don’t yet know.

Such a committee would be able to find a way to protect classified information while putting on the record and in public what needs to be public. And it could be thorough, unlike the hodgepodge we have now.

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.

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