May 21, 2017 by
A growing number of House Republicans are facing physical threats from angry constituents in their districts, leading many to fear for their safety.  In the last few weeks alone, the FBI arrested a man threatening Rep. Martha McSally's (R-Ariz.) life, a woman pursued Rep. David Kustoff (R-Tenn.) in her car, and Rep. Tom Garrett (R-Va.) heightened security at a town hall event in response to death threats.  Other Republicans still holding town halls say they haven't felt physically threatened by protesters, but they worry about the depth of anger from some constituents in the polarized environment and what it means for political civility.   Scores of GOP lawmakers have experienced going viral this year with videos of constituents shouting their disagreement on support for President Trump and policies such as the GOP’s healthcare bill.  Lately, though, Republicans have observed some furious constituents who appear to be going even further. Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.) described attendees at a town hall in his district last week who booed him down after he said people’s rights are God-given.  “They booed God. They booed the pastor. They booed the prayer. They booed the name of the church. They booed when I said rights come from God,” Brat recounted to The Hill just off the House floor. “That’s a fundamental tenet of western civilization. I mean, I didn’t think that was partisan.” Further north in New Jersey, Rep. Tom MacArthur (R) faced pushback from a crowd when he began telling the story of his special-needs daughter who died at the age of 11. “Shame!” people shouted. “We’ve heard this story.”  “This child in 11 years has shaped my life more than anybody. So if I talk about my daughter too much, well then so be it. But this is the one human being that has impacted my life more than anybody,” MacArthur said. Another person sarcastically yelled out MacArthur should write a book about it.  “Maybe I will write a book,” MacArthur shot back.  Still, not every town hall has veered into nastiness. Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.), a top Democratic target in 2018, said his town hall attendees expressed their clear displeasure with his positions but remained civil.  “You know, they had the signs and stuff like that. But I thought they were pretty nice, I thought they were pretty respectful,” Coffman said.  “From the stories I have heard in other districts, I’ve got it pretty good,” he said. But an increasing number of lawmakers’ encounters with constituents, even in deep-red districts, have gotten ugly.  The FBI arrested a Tucson, Ariz. man for leaving three threatening messages on McSally’s congressional office voicemail, in which he allegedly said her days “were numbered” and threatened to shoot her. A criminal complaint filed last week in the U.S. District Court in Tucson said the suspect told agents he was upset over McSally’s votes to back up Trump.  McSally represents the same swing district previously represented by then-Rep. Gabby Giffords (D), who was shot in the head in 2011 during a constituent meet-and-greet. In Tennessee, a woman angry over Kustoff’s vote for the GOP's healthcare bill this month pursued a car carrying him from an event at a local university. Kustoff and a staffer eventually turned into a driveway and came to a stop. Then the woman approached the car, yelled at Kustoff and struck the car’s windows, according to local reports. Meanwhile, Garrett spokesman Andrew Griffin said the freshman lawmaker has received at least three death threats over the course of the healthcare debate.   One constituent called Garrett’s Washington office and said if his healthcare is taken away, he would take Garrett’s life away. Another person sent a message to Garrett’s campaign Facebook page with graphic details describing how they would kill Garrett.  Griffin said investigating authorities have asked not to publicly reveal any details about the third case yet. In light of all the threats, Garrett made sure to increase security at his town hall in Moneta, Va. last week.  A security presence at town halls hasn’t prevented some physical confrontations. A constituent angry over the GOP’s healthcare bill approached Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), took dollar bills from his wallet and tried to shove them into the lawmaker’s suit pocket, the Bismarck Tribune reported.   Other times, the lawmakers targeted by the most extreme protesters don’t end up getting the brunt of the hostility.  Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) wasn’t home when his young daughter found a sign on the family’s lawn last week that read: “Traitors put party above country Do the right thing for once, shithead.” “Attack me, protest against me, but do not frighten my children at their home,” Fortenberry said in an interview with Fox News’s Neil Cavuto. “If we are going to be a true civil society that actually upholds the values of liberty and free speech, which means respect for differences and trying to work that out through the ballot box if necessary, but also through rational conversation.” Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) described protesters vandalizing his Gainesville, Fla. office and threatening his staff. One female constituent left a message on the office answering machine for the district director, saying, “Next time I see you, I’m going to beat your f---ing ass.” He decided to only allow visitors into the Gainesville office who have an appointment after protesters kept showing up every week in the front lobby. The protesters subsequently complained that their representative was trying to block their access, but Yoho felt he had no other choice. “They’re mad to the point where they’re cussing at my staff, pushed one of them, poured stuff on one of the staff’s car,” Yoho told The Hill. “If they start acting responsible and respectable, we’ll do the same.”  Yoho's recent town hall in the same town as his vandalized district office was a calmer affair. Attendees made it clear at times they didn't agree with him on the issues, but they remained civil. "We had fun the whole time," he said. source

May 19, 2017 by
Former FBI Director James Comey has agreed to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee in an open session. "The Committee looks forward to receiving testimony from the former Director on his role in the development of the Intelligence Community Assessment on Russian interference in the 2016 US elections, and I am hopeful that he will clarify for the American people recent events that have been broadly reported in the media," Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., said in a statement released Friday evening. "I hope that former Director Comey's testimony will help answer some of the questions that have arisen since Director Comey was so suddenly dismissed by the President. I also expect that Director Comey will be able to shed light on issues critical to this Committee's investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election," said Vice Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va. "Director Comey served his country with honor for many years, and he deserves an opportunity to tell his story. Moreover, the American people deserve an opportunity to hear it." Then-FBI Director James Comey testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee during an oversight hearing earlier this month before he was fired by President Trump. Comey's highly anticipated testimony, which will be slated after the Memorial Day congressional recess, comes after he was fired by Trump May 9 amid a mounting investigation into Russian involvement in the 2016 election and possible ties between Trump campaign associates and that country. While the White House initially pointed to a memo from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, outlining Comey's mismanagement of the investigation into Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton's private email server, as the impetus for his termination, Trump later admitted that the Russia investigation, which the he has called a "hoax," played a role. Earlier on Friday, the New York Times  reported that Trump told Russian officials the day after he fired Comey that the former FBI director was a "nut job" and he had let him go to take off the "great pressure" around the mounting investigation. Earlier this week, NPR confirmed that Trump had asked Comey to scuttle the investigation into his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, according to a memo of the account written by Comey. Trump has denied that ever happened. Wednesday, Rosenstein appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller as a special counsel to take over and continue the Justice Department investigation into Russian election interference and possible links with Trump campaign aides. source

May 19, 2017 by
Investigators into Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential elections are now also probing whether White House officials have engaged in a cover-up, according to members of Congress who were briefed Friday by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. That avenue of investigation was added in recent weeks after assertions by former FBI Director James Comey that President Donald Trump had tried to dissuade him from pressing an investigation into the actions of Trump’s first national security adviser, retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, members of Congress said, though it was not clear whom that part of the probe might target. A Justice Department official, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the topic, confirmed that the special counsel in charge of the probe, former FBI Director Robert Mueller, “has been given the authority to investigate the possibility of a cover-up.” But he cautioned that that “does not mean that is part of the investigation” currently. Where the investigation goes would be up to Mueller, he said. Even as members of Congress were mulling the expansion of the case into possible cover-up, and its reclassification from counterintelligence to criminal, the scandal appeared to grow. Trump-Russia investiigation: Coverup is now part of it | McClatchy Washington Bureau The Washington Post reported Friday afternoon that federal investigators were looking at a senior White House official as a “significant person of interest.” The article did not identify the official, though it noted that the person was “someone close to the president.” A person of interest is someone law enforcement identifies as relevant to an investigation but who has not been charged or arrested. And The New York Times reported that Trump had told visiting Russian officials in the Oval Office that firing Comey had taken pressure off the Russia probe. Cover-ups have traditionally been a major part of investigations that have threatened previous administrations. Articles of impeachment levied against Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton included allegations of obstruction of justice, as they were suspected of trying to hide other wrongdoing. “This is a thorough investigation of what happened in the 2016 election, and it can go anywhere,” said Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C. The possibility of a cover-up is the third branch of an investigation that began as a look at Russian meddling in the election and broadened into whether members of the Trump campaign had cooperated in that efforts, according to the briefing, members of Congress said. The election interference aspect, which was first alleged in October in a report by the U.S. intelligence community, appears to be an accepted fact, said Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the senior Democrat on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. What’s really left to be determined, Cummings said, is whether there was “collusion with the Russians, and the possibility of an attempt to cover up.” The most visible questions about the possible cover-up have come since Trump took office, and especially in the days since the president abruptly fired Comey on May 9. News reports that Comey had written memos about his conversations with Trump since January have fueled that aspect of the probe. source

May 19, 2017 by
Remember when President Trump allegedly leaking classified information to the Russians was dominating news coverage? You'd be forgiven if you only vaguely remembered that, because it was so long ago — Monday, a lifetime in Trump-era news terms. Take a look at what else happened this week: Monday: "Reports: Trump Gave Classified Info To Russians During White House Visit" Tuesday: "Sources: Trump Asked Comey To Shut Down Flynn Investigation" "Israel Said to Be Source of Secret Intelligence Trump Gave to Russians" "McMaster says Trump didn't know where intel he shared came from" "Trump Says He Has 'Absolute Right' To Share Intelligence With Russia" Wednesday: "Trump: No Politician 'Has Been Treated Worse Or More Unfairly' Than Me" "Former FBI Director Mueller Appointed As Special Counsel To Oversee Russia Probe" "House majority leader to colleagues in 2016: 'I think Putin pays' Trump" "Trump Team Knew Flynn Was Under Investigation Before He Came to White House" Thursday: "Flynn stopped military plan Turkey opposed — after being paid as its agent" "Trump campaign had at least 18 undisclosed contacts with Russians: sources" "President Trump Denies Asking Comey To Scuttle Flynn Investigation" "Deputy Attorney General Knew Comey Was Out Before Writing Critical Memo, Senators Say" "Fact Check: 'We Don't Have Health Care In This Country,' Trump Says" The seemingly nonstop avalanche since Trump was inaugurated has threatened to hobble his presidency. It has overshadowed Republicans' domestic agenda, and now, the president embarks Friday on his first overseas trip. It carries potentially high stakes given the Russia investigation and Trump's reported sharing of highly classified intelligence with the Russians, especially considering the source of that information. White House press secretary Sean Spicer, left, calls on a reporter as national security adviser H.R. McMaster listens at right during a briefing at the White House Tuesday. Trump is delivering an address on Islam Sunday in Saudi Arabia. It is supposed to be "inspiring but direct" on "radical ideology," according to national security adviser H.R. McMaster. The speech — by a man, who called for a ban on Muslims coming into the United States as a candidate — "is intended to unite the broader Muslim world against common enemies," McMaster added. Trump is also heading to Israel, the country that multiple outlets have reported supplied the classified information Trump shared with the Russians about an ISIS plot. And the president is also meeting at the Vatican with the pope, someone who said last year that Trump is "not Christian" if he's talking about building walls. As he does, Trump responded, calling Francis' comment "disgraceful" and accusing him of being used as a "pawn" of Mexico. "If and when the Vatican is attacked by ISIS, which as everyone knows is Isis's ultimate trophy," Trump said, "the pope can have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been president because this would not have happened." So, who knows what could happen on this trip? What we do know is that, ahead of the trip, Trump is in a defensive posture — and he has resorted to grievance politics. "Look at the way I've been treated lately, especially by the media. No politician in history — and I say this with great surety — has been treated worse or more unfairly," Trump said in a commencement address Wednesday at the Coast Guard Academy, his one military academy commencement speech of the year. (It wasn't the first time he used an event with a service academy for his own political purposes. When he presented the Air Force Academy with the President's Trophy in the Rose Garden of the White House, he was still smarting from the narrative that he came out on the losing end of the spending bill and railed against Democrats.) He took to Twitter the morning after former FBI Director Robert Mueller was named special counsel to head up the Justice Department's investigation of the Trump team's ties to Russia in the presidential election. He called "this" the "greatest witch hunt of a politician in American political history." Later Thursday, he told NBC News that a special counsel "hurts our country terribly, because it shows we're a divided, mixed-up, not-unified country." And then he went back again to electoral politics, accusing Democrats of sour grapes. "It also happens to be a pure excuse for the Democrats having lost an election that they should have easily won, because of the Electoral College being slanted so much in their way," he said. "That's all this is." The logic here doesn't quite follow, given the special counsel wasn't appointed by Democrats; it was named by his deputy attorney general. That's the same deputy attorney general Trump's White House initially hung its rationale for firing Comey on. This news fire hose, a result of errors forced and unforced for Trump, can have consequences — for the president, for his party and the country. "It's clear that his governing agenda is being sidelined because of the unremitting chaos, the unrelenting chaos that is a fundamental part of Donald Trump and, therefore, a fundamental part of the Trump presidency," said former George W. Bush speechwriter Peter Wehner. "So that agenda is now being sidelined and they're stuck with him." Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called a couple times this week for "a little less drama from the White House, so that we can focus on our agenda...." When it comes to foreign affairs, the stakes are even higher. "I think there is, first of all, concern about the damage that was specifically done to Israeli assets as a result of this leak," Chemi Shalev, a columnist for the Israeli paper Haaretz, said in NPR's Up First podcast Wednesday, "secondly, concern about the safety of information that is moved to the United States and angry, then, at the fact that this relationship would be put in such jeopardy." If allies can't trust the American president, what political capital does he have to tackle thorny international issues, like trade, Mideast peace or relations with the Islamic world? "If the president gives his word to the American people or to legislatures or to a foreign power, then everyone on every level has to know that he means what he says, and he says what he means," said Rick Tyler, former adviser to Ted Cruz's presidential campaign and former spokesman for Newt Gingrich. "And this president is demonstrating none of that." John Feehery, a Republican consultant and former congressional spokesman, said most of Trump's voters probably won't care. But that doesn't mean there aren't potential problems for the GOP. "You know the biggest problem for Republicans is not the firing of James Comey," Feehery said. "The biggest problem for Republicans is the fact that they now own health care and have to do something on it. And the other biggest problem is there haven't been many successes on the legislative level for the Congress. And if they want to get re-elected, they've got to worry about delivering for their constituents." source

May 19, 2017 by
Monday, 32BJ joined fast food workers at City Hall to deliver 3,000 messages to the New York City Council calling on council members to pass a law enabling industry workers to fund their own nonprofit organization with paycheck deductions. They also want the council to pass a law that requires employers to provide regular work schedules to help employees plan their lives better. Others unions that showed support for this venture included 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, Communications Workers of America District One, District Council 37, the Legal Services Staff Association, the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, the Professional Staff Congress and the NAACP New York State Conference. “New York City fast food workers are asking the New York City Council to pass new bills that will protect workers from last minute scheduling practices that make it difficult for them to plan their lives and would allow them to make voluntary automatic contributions to a nonprofit organization of their choice that would fight to protect their rights, safeguard compliance with minimum wage increases and improve their communities,” read the petition. Fast food workers Workers want the council to vote yes on a package of bills introduced in December known as the Fast Food Worker Empowerment Act. Under this law, workers would be able to tell their employers to make automatic regular contributions from their paychecks to a nonprofit organization of their choice. “Most workers in the industry don’t have bank accounts so automatic paycheck deductions are the only way we can make regular contributions,” said Shantel Walker, a Brooklyn-based Papa John’s employee, in a statement. “Under current law, our employers could allow us to make those automatic deductions, but they know we are forming a strong nonprofit by workers and for workers so they won’t do it voluntarily. We need the Council to pass a law so our voices will be heard!” As part of the package of bills, the Fair Work Week scheduling legislation would require fast-food employers to give workers two weeks’ advance notice on their schedule or pay a penalty for changes to their schedule with less than two weeks’ notice, and it would require employers to offer shifts in the store that become available to part-time workers before hiring new workers to fill them. The bill would also discourage the practice of workers starting the opening shift after working the closing shift the night before. “We stand with fast-food workers in their fight to form their own nonprofit organization,” said 32BJ President Hector Figueroa in a statement. “They need to be able to come together in an organization that will help them fight for and enforce the changes they are winning for themselves and their families and helps them lift up their communities. When we pass this scheduling legislation, they want to have an organization that will help them ensure their employers follow the law.” In other news, 32BJ announced their endorsements for New York City Council and for New York State special elections. For City Council districts 2, 4 and 8 in Manhattan, the union endorsed Carlina Rivera, Keith Powers and Diana Ayala, respectively. For City Council districts 12 and 13 in The Bronx and 23 in Queens, 32BJ endorsed incumbent Andy King, Mark Gjonaj and Barry Grodenchik. In Brooklyn City Council districts 43 and 44, the union endorsed Justin Brannan and David Greenfield. “It is more important than ever to have local leaders who will stand up for working people. Our city and our state must focus on protecting the most vulnerable among us,” stated Figueroa. “These candidates have a history of standing up for working people, immigrant rights, good public education, affordable housing, criminal justice, police reform and other issues that are important to our members and their families. That’s why our members decided to endorse them.” source

May 15, 2017 by
n the early 2000s, banks successfully sued to stop Iowa from limiting their ability to charge ATM fees to non-customers. They also fought off states’ attempts to stop them from charging non-customers to cash checks drawn on the banks’ accounts. In another case, they stopped California from forcing two banks to conduct audits of their own residential mortgages. What do all these cases have in common? The winning argument in each was that states had no right to impose their laws on federally regulated national banks. And the man who helped make that powerful argument was Keith Noreika — President Trump’s pick to head the federal agency that oversees national banks. Noreika, a prominent Washington attorney who specializes in financial regulatory law, has made a career out of representing banks as they sought to fight back consumer-friendly state regulations and class-action lawsuits accusing banks of deceptive practices. He is now the acting head of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, a position he can serve for 130 days without Senate approval and during which he does not have to abide by stricter ethics rules governing permanent appointees. As head of the OCC, Noreika will be well-positioned to lighten regulations on banks — without the need for Congress to pass legislation. Among the targets may be the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street overhaul, which made it easier for states to hold national banks accountable. Noreika has criticized the law’s burdens, while Trump has called it “horrendous.” Under Dodd-Frank, the head of the OCC has broad power to review and preempt states’ consumer finance laws. “The first way to change the regulations is to put in regulators who will propose to stop enforcing them,” said Andy Green, a former Democratic Senate staffer who helped craft the 2010 law and now works at the liberal Center for American Progress. Noreika’s ascension fits into a broader pattern of Trump administration appointees. Many of them have worked to influence the same agencies they’ve now been assigned to lead. And while Trump has been slow to name people to positions that require Senate confirmation, he has been quick to install officials out of public view. Through an OCC spokesman, Noreika declined to be interviewed. But he said in a statement: “I am proud to have had an effective law practice where I represented clients of all types — banks, institutions, individuals, and a large labor union.” He added: “I do think that ten years after the crisis and seven years after the passing of Dodd-Frank, now is a good time to take stock of the rules implemented and actions taken to ensure the nation has the right sense of balance and coherence in regulating financial institutions.” (Read his full statement here.) Noreika’s appointment has raised the ire of Democratic lawmakers. “You have chosen to replace the current head with an acting head who is unvetted, has obvious conflicts of interest, and lacks the experience to run an agency that employs almost 4,000 individuals,” seven Democratic Senators wrote in a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Thursday. Noreika is following in the footsteps of his mentor, John Dugan, who worked with Noreika at the corporate law firm Covington & Burling — before himself leaving to head the OCC from 2005 to 2010. Under Dugan, the OCC was criticized as being too friendly to banks in the face of widespread lending abuses that fueled the financial crisis. While Noreika now heads up the OCC, Dugan is back at Covington, where his bio says he “advises clients on a range of legal matters affected by significantly increased regulatory requirements resulting from the financial crisis.” Some say it’s too early to draw any conclusions on how Dugan’s protégé will run the agency. “I don’t think you should assume that what a lawyer argues for a client is indicative of how he or she would react when you’re administering the law,” said H. Rodgin Cohen, senior chairman of Sullivan & Cromwell, a prominent corporate law firm. Consumer advocates are particularly concerned about Noreika’s frequent reliance on the argument that federal banking laws and OCC regulations trump state laws — a concept known as preemption. In 2005, when Noreika became a partner at Covington, the firm noted that “many of Mr. Noreika’s cases have challenged the validity of state and local laws as preempted by the federal banking laws” and listed Wells Fargo and Bank of America as prominent clients. ProPublica identified more than a dozen such cases filed in federal court from 2000 through 2005. Most were dismissed or settled in banks’ favor. “That’s a real problem,” said Lauren Saunders, associate director of the National Consumer Law Center in Washington, D.C. “States often have laws that protect consumers in areas where there are no national laws.” Banking lawyers say it only makes sense to give precedence to federal banking laws. Otherwise, national banks would end up dealing with 50 different regulators rather than one — the OCC. That was the whole point behind Congress’ creation of the agency during the Civil War, when states’ conflicting regulations made banking and commerce more difficult. But in the years before the financial crisis, as abuses in the mortgage-lending markets began to surface, the OCC was slow to act. States did act. Between 1999 and 2007, North Carolina and about 30 other states passed laws targeting predatory lending practices. The OCC, meanwhile, adopted sweeping regulations that prevented those laws from applying to national banks and extended that protection to the banks’ state-chartered subsidiaries. In 2008, then-New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer accused the agency of embarking “on an aggressive and unprecedented campaign to prevent states from protecting their residents.”   At the time, Dugan brushed off the criticism. “Almost everyone who has paid attention to the subprime lending crisis has concluded that OCC-regulated national banks were not the problem,” he said in a statement responding to Spitzer. But two separate inquiries — the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission and a report by the U.S. Senate Banking Committee — disagreed. The commission concluded that the OCC’s preemption of state laws ended up “preventing adequate protection for borrowers and weakening constraints” on risky mortgages. The banks used the OCC to engage in “regulatory arbitrage,” said Arthur Wilmarth, a professor at the George Washington University Law School. Dugan did not return phone calls but said in an email, “I disagree categorically with Wilmarth.” He referred his testimony to the crisis investigators, in which he said the financial crisis was “not caused by federal preemption of state mortgage lending laws.” Instead, Dugan said, “the root cause of the mortgage crisis was exceptionally weak underwriting standards.” In 2007, as Dugan presided over the OCC, Noreika and his Covington colleagues won the biggest preemption victory of all, Watters vs. Wachovia Bank. The case evolved from separate federal lawsuits involving banks that had sought to shield their subsidiaries from state laws and subsequently faced collapse or fell into legal trouble for their business practices — Wachovia, National City Bank of Cleveland and Wells Fargo. Wilmarth advised state banking regulators on the cases. The cases were merged and went all the way up to the Supreme Court, where Noreika argued that state laws didn’t apply to subsidiaries of national banks like Wachovia. In a 5-3 vote, the high court agreed. Preemption became an even bigger issue after the 2008 collapse of several big banks, including Wachovia. Local governments tried to sue banks for alleged misdeeds, but again were blocked by preemption. By then, Congress was working on Dodd-Frank, and preemption was a hotly debated area of reform. One of the changes Congress enacted as part of the law was to negate the effect of the Supreme Court decision that Noreika had litigated. Dodd-Frank also gave local law enforcement authorities more power to bring lawsuits against national banks under state laws. And it created a revised set of rules under which the OCC can review state banking laws to determine if they should be preempted. The responsibility for those reviews falls to the head of the OCC — now Noreika. He has the power to determine if a state consumer finance law is preempted by federal law. “He will now have his hand on the preemption button,” said Wilmarth, the George Washington University law professor. source

May 14, 2017 by
Each of these alternatives may seem reasonable, but there are key differences between them. My research on more than 50 government investigations reveals that independent commissions, like the one Pelosi is advocating for, are more likely than regular or select congressional committees to achieve consensus about controversial events. A congressional investigation into Russian activities and ties to Trump’s advisers is likely to be riven by partisan discord. An independent commission has greater potential to generate a widely agreed-upon understanding of Russian misbehavior. At a time when Congress is sharply polarized along partisan lines, congressional investigations tend to become microcosms of that polarization. This is all the more true when an investigation involves an issue about which the president is vulnerable to political embarrassment or attack. Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez rallies with protesters outside the White House. How a congressional probe might unfold The Senate Intelligence Committee, responsible for overseeing intelligence matters, is characterized by more bipartisanship than most congressional committees. It possesses a highly professional staff that works together well across party lines. Its leaders – Republican Sen. Richard Burr and Democratic Sen. Mark Warner – have expressed a willingness to cooperate in investigating issues related to Russia. But sharp divisions are likely to emerge between Democrats and Republicans on the committee when they face decisions such as whether to require Trump campaign advisers to testify under oath, or demand that relevant records be turned over to the committee. The same goes for drawing conclusions about the motivations behind Russia’s interference, or the nature of ties between Russia and Trump’s aides. Such issues could run the risk of undermining the credibility of Trump’s election – thereby weakening the Republican Party’s hold on power. This could result in the issuance of majority and minority committee reports. This happened with congressional reports in 2012 on the Central Intelligence Agency’s treatment of detainees and in 2016 on events related to the attack in Benghazi, Libya that killed four Americans. Such competing reports would fuel the perpetuation of distinct Republican and Democratic narratives about Russia’s role in the 2016 election. The same outcome would likely result from an investigation by a select congressional committee, since select committees are also composed of lawmakers from both parties. Investigations of the 9/11 attack The congressional response to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack illustrates the tendency of partisanship to infect investigations into events that could call into question the president’s standing. In 2002, the House and Senate intelligence committees conducted a joint investigation of matters related to the attack. This probe, known as the joint inquiry, uncovered important information about government lapses that made it easier for Al-Qaida operatives to enter the United States and hijack four airplanes. Families of of 9/11 victims protest the handling of the investigation of the 9/11 attacks, Oct. 2002. Yet the joint inquiry’s substantive findings were overshadowed by partisan disagreements over issues such as whether George W. Bush or Bill Clinton bore responsibility for the failure to prevent the attack. Some Republican members of the joint inquiry were also unwilling to support efforts to press the Bush White House for access to key witnesses and documents. The inquiry concluded with the release of a majority report that included separate concluding statements from nine inquiry members, some of whom expressed serious disagreement. Dissatisfaction with this process led Congress and President Bush to approve a law that created the independent 9/11 Commission nine months after the joint inquiry had begun its work. The commission was characterized by strong bipartisanship. None of the 9/11 Commission’s members held public office during their tenure on the commission. This distance from the partisan environment of Congress gave the commission’s five Republicans and five Democrats the freedom to find common ground. The result was a unanimous report that provided the definitive account of the Sept. 11 attack. However, the delay in creating the commission meant that this account and the commission’s recommendations were not published until 2004, years after the attack. To be sure, some commissions also fall prey to polarization. I have found that about one-third of commissions created to investigate national security issues fail to produce unanimous reports. But even staunch Democrats and Republicans typically place the national interest above partisan considerations when serving on a commission. They have an incentive to do so because their own reputation is at stake. To create a commission, Congress would need to approve and Trump would need to sign legislation establishing the body. For now, this outcome appears unlikely. For this reason, some Democratic leaders in Congress are focusing instead on ensuring that the intelligence committee’s investigation is robust. But if the intelligence committee proves unable to conduct a thorough and bipartisan investigation of Russian meddling and Trump’s campaign, pressure will build on America’s leaders to establish a more independent probe. Hanging in the balance could be whether the United States can forge consensus about what happened and how to prevent it from happening again. source