Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Although it seems obvious, but to investigate something properly, you need adequate staff and resources. And, as of today, neither the Senate Intelligence Committee nor the Senate Judiciary Committee have that. (Photo: Thinkstock)

Following the Money on Senate Russian Investigations

To special counsel, independent prosecute, special commission, select committee, or regular investigate, that is the question.

As the constitutional crisis deepens in the wake of Tuesday’s firing of FBI Director James Comey, the quest to assure the public that Russian interference in the 2016 elections is being investigated properly is heating up. Some form of inquiry is in order. But which kind?

To hear GOP Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the status quo is just fine. "Today we'll no doubt hear calls for a new investigation, which could only serve to impede the current work being done,” he said on the Senate floor the morning after Comey was sacked.

Yet, virtually every government watchdog group, including the Brennan Center, has called for the appointment of a special counsel, concerned that Comey’s firing has compromised the FBI and that the involvement of the purportedly recused Attorney General Jeff Sessions in the dismissal suggests continual meddling.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) wants a select committee. “I have long called for a special congressional committee to investigate Russia’s interference in the 2016 election,” McCain said. “The president’s decision to remove the F.B.I. director only confirms the need and the urgency of such a committee.” Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) wants a special commission.

Given all the different forms of investigation being proposed, The Washington Post, published this helpful lexicon to all the animals in the investigative zoo.  

For the most part, however, the GOP is standing fast. “Republicans are putting their faith in the Senate Intelligence Committee and career FBI investigators to conduct investigations that they say will not be partisan in nature,” Politico reported.

They might be the only ones who still have faith.

Here’s the rub: The Senate has not allocated a single penny to investigate the issue. Both the Intelligence Committee and the Judiciary Committee (which is investigating former National Security Adviser’s Michael Flynn’s contacts with the Russians) are operating with the same budgets and pretty much the same personnel they had before the subject blew up. Everyone who is investigating Russia’s involvement in the 2016 campaign is doing it in addition to their day job.

As of April, the Intelligence Committee had seven people working on the matter part-time, and none of them had significant investigative experience. Finally at the end of the month, in part because of grumbling about the pace of the probe, two investigators – one Republican, one Democrat – versed in National Security Agency collection methods were hired by the panel.

Although it seems like a lifetime ago, it’s worth remembering that the week began with former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates’ testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee about her warnings to the White House that Flynn could be “compromised” by the Russians.  

At the same hearing, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) pointed out that Judiciary only had “meager resources” to devote to the probe. Not a single staffer was working on it full-time. “[The Committee] does not have professional staff assigned to this investigation. It's the ordinary staff…who are working it,” Durbin noted.  And the committee is about to get a lot busier with Trump’s announcement Monday of five federal appellate court nominees.

Although it seems obvious, but to investigate something properly, you need adequate staff and resources. And, as of today, neither the Senate Intelligence Committee nor the Senate Judiciary Committee have that.

By contrast, consider how the Senate responded to the great Y2K scare. You remember. The basic idea was that the world’s computers would go haywire on January 1, 2000. Actually, the threat was real, but a tad overstated. Most companies and governments easily updated their programs to cope with the calendar change. Faced with the problem, the Senate established a special bipartisan committee in 1998 and gave it a $1.75 million budget. When the committee was done with its work, the Senate passed a resolution thanking its chairman and vice-chairman, a Republican and Democrat, for their leadership and hard work. That was almost 20 years ago and involved a friendly committee with cooperative parties.

It seems like another country produced that panel: one that worked in a bipartisan fashion and allocated adequate resources and time to ameliorate a looming problem.

Meanwhile back in America in 2017, one point is clear: until the Senate allocates sufficient resources to its investigations of Russian interference in the 2016 election, it may well be impossible to learn the truth.


© 2021 Brennan Center for Justice
Victoria Bassetti

Victoria Bassetti

Victoria Bassetti is a Brennan Center contributor. She is the author of Electoral Dysfunction: A Survival Manual for American Voters,” published by The New Press in 2012.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Sanders Says Senate Bill 'Nowhere Near' Enough as Dems, GOP Tank His Amendments

The Vermont senator nevertheless supported final passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, calling it "a step forward" on climate and drug prices.

Jake Johnson ·


Senate Barely Approves Scaled Back Legislation on Climate, Taxes, Healthcare

But thanks to Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), there was a huge, last-minute win for the private equity and hedge fund industries

Common Dreams staff ·


'What the Hell is Wrong With Them': GOP Senators Kill $35 Cap on Insulin

'Republicans told millions of Americans who use insulin to go to hell.'

Common Dreams staff ·


World Faces 'Loaded Gun' on Hiroshima's 77th Anniversary

“We must ask: What have we learned from the mushroom cloud that swelled above this city?”

Common Dreams staff ·


'Extremely Concerned': Shelling of Europe's Biggest Nuclear Power Plant More Worrying Than Chernobyl

Ukraine said parts of the facility were "seriously damaged" by Russian military strikes.

Common Dreams staff ·

Common Dreams Logo