That contract has now been spectacularly broken

Adam Schiff (the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee) explains why the release of Nunes’s memo is such a terrible move.

As multiple investigations work to unearth the full truth, the president has lashed out with Nixonian ferocity at the Justice Department, the FBI, congressional investigators and the media.

However, unlike President Richard Nixon, who waged his Watergate fight without the same kind of vocal allies, Trump not only has an entire media ecosystem dedicated to shielding him from accountability but also senior Republicans on the Hill who have cast aside their duty to uphold the law and perform oversight in favor of protecting the Trump presidency — no matter the cost. Nunes may have wielded the committee gavel here, but the ultimate responsibility lies with House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), who lacked the courage to stop him.

Ryan, who has never served on the Intelligence Committee, seems not to understand the central bargain underpinning the creation of the intelligence committees after Watergate. In exchange for the intelligence community’s willingness to reveal closely guarded national secrets to a select group of members and staff for the purposes of oversight, the committees and the congressional leadership pledged to handle that information responsibly and without regard to politics.

That contract has now been spectacularly broken by the creation of a partisan memo that misrepresents highly classified information that will never be made public. Intelligence agencies can no longer be confident that material they provide the committee will not be repurposed and manipulated for reasons having nothing to do with national security. As a result, they will be far more reluctant to share their secrets with us in the future. Moreover, sources of information that the agencies rely upon may dry up, since they can no longer count on secrecy when the political winds are blowing. This is a grave cost for short-term political gain.

We want Congress to oversee the intelligence agencies, because the alternative is the Hoover-era FBI or the Cold War CIA overthrowing elected governments all over the planet. We want oversight, but not if it’s done by corrupted hacks like Nunes.

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