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House Intel Committee Fight Over the Nunes Memo Highlights Flaws in Intelligence Oversight

Split between Trump supporters and intelligence agency defenders underscores the committee's failure to serve as aggressive, skeptical overseers.

WASHINGTON - Wrangling over whether the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) will release Chairman Devin Nunes' (R-CA) memo alleging FISA abuses, with a vote possible later today, highlights the committee's increasing and irredeemable dysfunction.

Rep. Nunes is exploiting his position and the committee's role as overseer of the intelligence agencies for political purposes: to defend President Trump. At the same time, Ranking Member Adam Schiff's (D-CA) defense of the intelligence agencies, embodied in his own memo as well as his push for less disclosure, is an abdication of the committee's responsibility to serve as an aggressive, skeptical overseer that serves as a proxy for the public.

A bipartisan coalition of organizations urged specific reforms in 2016 (endorsed by 33 organizations) that would have prevented the #releasethememo scandal while providing members of Congress with better access to the information necessary to oversee the intelligence agencies. Specific to this controversy, the recommendations include lowering the threshold so a party in the minority can release information to the public; allowing additional committees of jurisdiction to make recommendations for public disclosure; and expanding the amount of time the president has to review disclosure requests.

Daniel Schuman, Demand Progress policy director, said:

"Chairman Nunes and Ranking Member Schiff are demonstrating that the House Intelligence Committee, as current constituted, is incapable of fulfilling its mission of providing aggressive, skeptical oversight of the intelligence agencies. Rep. Nunes is hell-bent on protecting Pres. Trump at all costs, and Rep. Schiff's supine deference to the intelligence agencies undermines Congress's role as a check on the executive branch. The House Intelligence Committee, and the entire congressional oversight apparatus, needs systematic reform."

 

So long as the members of the Intelligence Committee are handpicked by the Speaker and Minority Leader of the House, its rules designed to prevent involvement by other members of Congress, and its leaders reflect extreme views and partisan passions that eschew real oversight over the intelligence agencies, we place ourselves at grave risk for the reoccurrence of the executive branch abuses the Committee was originally created to stamp out.

The fact that the Chair and Ranking Member came together to push into law the privacy-destroying FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act just a few weeks back, beating back any efforts to reform the government's ability to surveil Americans without a warrant, illuminates that this fight is about who has power, not protecting the American people against the inappropriate exercise of that power. 

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