Ex-FBI'er: Congressman shouldn't be sniffing around Mueller probe

In a battle involving important principles of separation of powers, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes...

Posted: May 15, 2018 5:06 PM
Updated: May 15, 2018 5:06 PM

In a battle involving important principles of separation of powers, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes is fighting with the Justice Department, whose leaders have rejected his demands to turn over intelligence connected with special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

While details remain murky, the issue is whether Congress should be able to demand personal information about a secret intelligence source assisting Mueller's efforts. According to The Washington Post, Nunes issued a subpoena to DOJ demanding "all documents referring or related to the individual." This appears to contradict his original claim that he only sought access to information, and nothing regarding a specific person.

Both these things cannot be true. And why is Nunes blurring the lines of congressional oversight and inappropriately asking for evidentiary information in the middle of a sensitive special counsel investigation?

Those of us who have recruited and handled human sources around the world understand the gravity of exposing people who risk their lives to provide intelligence necessary for defending the nation. The relationship between a human source and the government is based on trust -- trust that the handling officer will keep the source's identity secret and not disclose the information they provide to anyone without a need to know, especially loose-lipped politicians.

Although Congress has a vital oversight role, enshrined in the founding of the House Iintelligence Committee in 1977 after gross civil liberties abuses by government agencies, those same agencies would be correct to question the motives of Nunes, who has proved time and again that he is not above politicizing intelligence agencies for partisan gain.

One need only look to the infamous Nunes "midnight run" to the White House as an example of such apparent impropriety. In this bizarre episode, the committee chairman went before reporters claiming to have evidence of improper government surveillance of the Trump transition team. The public would later learn that Nunes' "source" was actually someone at the White House, and that his dubious effort to discredit the men and women of the intelligence community would ultimately crumble.

Nunes also led the charge in releasing a memo accusing the FBI of lying to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court while seeking judicial authority to investigate Carter Page, a member of the Trump presidential campaign. By selectively including certain pieces of information - over the strenuous objections of the FBI, which believed the memo's release would cause grave harm - Nunes sought to manipulate the public into believing law enforcement was out of control.

Casting further suspicion on Nunes' motives, sources told CNN the White House believed its approving the release of the memo "could discredit the agency investigating possible collusion between his campaign associates and Russia."

The arguments in the memo drafted by committee Republicans would be exposed by the subsequent release of a rebuttal memo by Democratic committee member Adam Schiff, who destroyed Nunes' arguments line by line, and provided added context to the weighty issues facing the public.

As a former national security professional, on principle I was against the release of either memo - sensitive intelligence matters should not be litigated in public - but appreciated Schiff correcting the record and countering the spurious claims by Nunes that the FBI was being deceitful.

Although we are still unclear on what Nunes is up to, one would be right to approach with great skepticism any notion that he is acting independently and responsibly exercising his important oversight duties.

His historical political alliance with President Trump is well documented, but his actions during the "midnight run" and the embarrassing memo episode should serve as warning signs for all Americans. Why would a congressional leader with access to our nation's most sensitive secrets and a penchant for politicization be so cozy with a President whose campaign is the subject of a criminal investigation?

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