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The Implications Of The House Intelligence Committee Sticking To Party Lines


All right. Here in Washington, we are awaiting another memo. Last week, the House Intelligence Committee released a controversial Republican memo that says the FBI used faulty intelligence to secure a warrant to spy on the Trump campaign. This new memo that we are awaiting is the rebuttal from Democrats on the committee. It could be made public later today or over the weekend or never. The dueling memos speak to the partisan feud that has spilled out of the Intelligence Committee's secure chambers and played out in public. And now come reports that bickering has gotten so bad there are plans to build a wall to physically separate Republican and Democratic staff.

Jeremy Bash was chief counsel on the House Intelligence Committee before moving on to senior posts at the CIA and the Pentagon, and he joins us now. Welcome.

JEREMY BASH: Hey, Mary Louise.

KELLY: Hey there. So having spent many hours in those secure committee rooms I just mentioned, what's your reaction to the prospect of a wall to separate Democratic and Republican staffers?

BASH: Well, it's a horrible, disappointing development, Mary Louise. I mean, the committee has been largely nonpartisan, and it's probably the least partisan congressional committee. And that's because it oversees fundamentally nonpartisan activities of the U.S. intelligence community.

But when Chairman Nunes believes that Donald Trump and the president of his party is being somewhat challenged, perhaps by the intelligence community and by intelligence oversight, he's taken the committee down a very partisan path. And this wall that he's building is just the latest physical manifestation.

KELLY: I should be transparent about your ties. You're talking about Chairman Devin Nunes, who is the Republican chair of the committee. You worked with Democrats during your government career. But let me push you on this idea that the intel committees were ever that nonpartisan. I mean, I know as a reporter covering them I was always told, we check our politics with our cellphones when we go into these rooms and do our committee work. Was that ever really the way it worked?

BASH: There were partisan flashpoints. And I can remember during the 2000s there were debates over enhanced interrogation and NSA surveillance. But the run-of-the-mill work of the committee, overseeing massive intelligence agencies like the Defense Intelligence Agency or the National Reconnaissance Office, which puts spy satellites in the air, billions of dollars spent - these are nonpartisan, nonpolitical issues. And it really - it falls to a fairly nonpartisan staff to oversee these operations in secret.

KELLY: What is lost, Jeremy Bash, when lawmakers who are charged with overseeing U.S. intelligence can't find a way to work together in a bipartisan way?

BASH: Well, this committee is actually - was one of the major post-Watergate reforms, and it strengthened congressional oversight and ultimately accountability for the intelligence community. And I think these committees play a big role in making sure that taxpayer dollars are spent well and that the operations are appropriate and lawful. And if that oversight function is broken, then I think we get less out of our intelligence community and less to defend the country with.

KELLY: So that is the way they were set up. Let me bring you up to the present. And this committee is one of several which is supposed to be pulling off a credible, serious Russia investigation. Do you harbor hope that it will be able to do that?

BASH: Well, I harbor a little hope that it can continue to look at Russia's meddling. I don't harbor a lot of hope that it will look at the issue of whether or not people in the Trump organization worked with the Russians, discussed with the Russians or had knowledge of what the Russians were doing. That's, I think, a bridge too far for Republicans, and they've been unwilling to go down that path.

KELLY: But you think that they will be able to examine the question of what Russia may have done in the 2016 election and how to stop it from doing the same thing this year.

BASH: I would hope so. Although, again, to date, we haven't seen a lot either from Republican leadership on the Hill or from the administration about exactly how we're going to prepare for the next wave of Russian attacks that we know is coming.

KELLY: Jeremy Bash, thanks very much.

BASH: Thanks, Mary Louise.

KELLY: Jeremy Bash, veteran of the House Intelligence Committee staff, now managing director at Beacon Global Strategies. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.