How Partisan Has House Intelligence Panel Become? It’s Building a Wall

By Sharon LaFraniere and Nicholas Fandos

Feb. 8, 2018

WASHINGTON — Beneath the Capitol, in a secured room where the House 
Intelligence Committee is supposed to be pressing its inquiry into Russian 
interference in the 2016 presidential election, two dozen staff members await a 
construction crew.

The workers will be erecting a physical barrier to separate the cubicles of 
aides who serve Republican members of the committee from those who serve 

To committee members of both parties, the planned division of one room into two 
is emblematic of how far the panel, a longtime oasis of country-first comity in 
a bitterly divided Congress, has fallen since it began its Russia inquiry last 
year. Any pretense that committee members will come together to get to the 
bottom of that matter — or any other — has disappeared.

“I think that is a travesty,” said Mike Rogers, a Republican former House 
member from Michigan who was chairman of the committee from 2011 through 
January 2015, predicting that the ugly partisanship would erode the trust that 
the committee needs from intelligence agencies to do its job.

Born four decades ago out of Congress’s determination to guard against abuses 
of the federal government’s covert intelligence-gathering powers, the committee 
has had troubles before. But Republicans and Democrats say it hit a new low in 
the past two weeks, one many predict will have enduring consequences.

“Certainly I’ve never heard of or seen it being this bad,” Mr. Rogers said.

In recent days, the Republican-controlled committee has treated the public to a 
confusing round-the-clock spectacle over dueling staff-drafted memos that 
pitted Republicans’ damning characterizations of classified documents against 
Democrats’ benign ones....

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The legislation that set up both committees in the mid-1970s envisioned a 
compact: The nation’s intelligence and law enforcement agencies would share 
highly sensitive secrets with a select group of lawmakers and senior aides with 
the understanding that the information would be carefully protected. But the 
authors of the legislation deliberately included a check on the agencies. The 
committees could vote to release classified information if they deemed it to 
serve the public interest, as long as the president did not object.

There is a long waiting list for a spot on the House panel, and a tradition to 
uphold. Legislators and staff members like to repeat the mantra that they check 
their politics with their cellphones when they enter the secure rooms to review 
classified information or interview witnesses.

Those now seem like empty boasts. “Everything now, you feel, is just being done 
to set up for the next political posturing,” Mr. Rooney said.

Representative Jim Himes, Democrat of Connecticut, agreed. “To do oversight, we 
need to be functional, and right now we are not functional,” he said.

K. Michael Conaway, a Republican from Texas who has helped run the day-to-day 
Russia investigation, said he was hopeful that tensions would eventually fade. 
But at the moment, he acknowledged, it seems like “the worst thing ever.”

Some senior career officials at the government’s intelligence agencies, endowed 
with around $80 billion a year in funding, warn that the next time the House 
committee seeks classified materials or briefings, there will be more 
reluctance than usual to cooperate.

When lawmakers suddenly declassify secret information over the objections of 
those who provided it, the reaction of agency officials, whistle-blowers and 
even intelligence officials in allied countries is predictable, said Steven 
Aftergood, the director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation 
of American Scientists: “Wait a minute. We had better think twice about what we 

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