Around Donald Trump's ascension to the White House hangs one question above all others: was the United States attacked by a foreign power, in this case, the Russian Federation? The allegation is that Russian President Vladimir Putin directed the Russian hacking and influence operation to target the 2016 American presidential election for the benefit of now-Commander-in-Chief Donald J. Trump.
That's what the CIA, NSA, and FBI want us all to believe, based on the joint report they issued on Jan. 6. But as I have noted elsewhere, that report contained exactly zero declassified intelligence to back up the claim.
Still, House Democrats hinted darkly that if the public only knew what they did, there would be no doubt. Yet if members of Congress genuinely believe Russia attacked our electoral process—and thus our country—they need to put up or shut up.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a statement that “As stunning as this report is in its revelations, I wish the American people could have access to more details. The American people have a right to know what a foreign power did to disrupt our election, regardless of the election’s outcome.” Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) was equally categorical in his assertions about the evidence, calling Russia’s responsibility “undeniable.”
In the two weeks since the publication of that thin and still-controversial intelligence community report, leaked classified information suggests the FBI is leading an investigation of whether illicit Russian money was injected into Trump’s campaign. A sensational New York Times story, meanwhile, alleges NSA interception of communications between Russian officials and people working for Trump. Beating the same drum as Pelosi and Hoyer, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) told CNN that “If the public knew what Members of Congress know,” they would boycott Trump’s inauguration as well.
If what these members are saying is true, then there are mechanisms in Congress allowing them to share what they know with the public.
Under the Constitution’s Speech and Debate clause, they have a complete legal shield to go to the House floor and disclose, in lurid detail, exactly how Putin and his minions tried to subvert our democratic process.
It has worked before. It was the Speech and Debate clause that gave then-Sen. Mike Gravel (D-Alaska) the standing—and the duty—to read the Pentagon Papers into the record so the public would know that RAND analyst-turned-whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg was telling a huge truth about the big lie that was the Vietnam War.
It’s also worth noting that after the investigations into the 9/11 attacks belatedly got underway—Congress failed to start its own until nearly five months after the attacks—House and Senate members insisted that the examination of the largest intelligence failure since Pearl Harbor include as much declassified information as possible. The families of the victims of the 9/11 attacks had a right to know. The public at large had a right to know. The same is true now.
What makes this episode even more scandalous is that the Obama administration knew the attacks were underway in real time, yet it failed to unmask the totality of the alleged Russian assault before the damage was done. The public has a right to know why that happened as well, though Pelosi, Hoyer, and Cummings seem far more interested in what the Russians allegedly did than in why the Obama administration failed to stop it.
Perhaps instead of boycotting Trump’s inauguration, House and Senate members with knowledge of the Russian attack should’ve been on the floors of their respective chambers informing the public of the facts as they know them. Back in the day, we called such things “Congressional oversight.”