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Rocky Road Ahead for House Intelligence Panel

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Former CIA Director Michael Hayden once cracked to me that the House Intelligence Committee was known around Langley as “the land of broken toys”—a well deserved sobriquet for its long record of partisan bickering.

McCarthy at CPAC conference on Feb. 27, 2021 in Orlando, Florida. (Getty Images)

With the exception perhaps of Mike Rogers, the Michigan Republican who provided bipartisan leadership of the panel from 2011 to 2015, the committee has been periodically rent by partisan warfare over the past three decades, hamstringing its ability to provide sober, discreet oversight of U.S. intelligence agencies. In contrast, its Senate counterpart is widely considered a more contemplative overseer of the spy agencies under the leadership of Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

Rogers was succeeded in 2015 by MAGA Republican Devin Nunes, a leading adherent of Trumpian “deep state” conspiracy theories, who in turn was succeeded by Democrat Adam Schiff, who not only chaired the panel’s highly charged investigation of Team Trump’s ties to Russia but was a leading figure in both his impeachments and the Jan. 6 committee.

Under Nunes’s purview Republicans on the intelligence committee did their own Trump-Russia probe and—no surprise—produced a report in diametric opposition to the findings of their bipartisan Senate counterpart and U.S. intelligence, that Moscow indeed interfered in the 2016 election to the benefit of Trump. Nunes accused the Democrats and FBI of manufacturing a case against the president.   

“We have gone completely off the rails, and now we’re basically a political forum for people to leak information to drive the day’s news,” bemoaned GOP Rep. Tom Rooney during an interview on CNN’s “Erin Burnett OutFront.”

After Nunes’ departure to run Trump’s TRUTH Social media operation in Jan. 2022, however, a manner of bipartisanship re-emerged between Chairman Schiff and the panel’s new Republican ranking member, Mike Turner of Ohio. Last month, they guided the FY 2023 Intelligence Authorization Act, part of the National Defense Authorization Act, to congressional approval by a vote of 350 to 80.

Alas, with Kevin McCarthy’s hand on the tiller and Turner ensconced as HPSCI’s new chair, the committee seems to be tacking back to the status quo ante. One of McCarthy’s first moves as speaker was to deny Schiff and fellow Democrat Eric Swalwell seats on the committee (and boot Ilhan Omar from Foreign Affairs), an obvious retribution for the Democratic majority last year voting to strip Georgia MAGA Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of her committee assignments after she appeared to endorse violence against Democrats. McCarthy said he was bouncing Swalwell because of the Californian’s long ago friendship with a female fundraiser later outed as a Chinese agent. Swalwell says he broke off the relationship as soon as the FBI warned him about the woman, but McCarthy this week called him a current security risk—no matter that a previous Republican speaker thoroughly briefed on the kerfuffle, Paul Ryan, kept him on the intelligence committee. The FBI also brought no charges against him.

But McCarthy may not get a free pass on Schiff. Word is that Hakeem Jeffries, the Democrats’ assertive new leader, is going to nominate Schiff for a HPSCI seat anyway, “so as not to be cowed by McCarthy’s threats,” a committee source said. In the end, though, it’s likely Schiff will have to take a back seat to either the next highest ranking Democrat, Jim Himes, or Andre Carson to stay on the panel—that’s if he wants the continuing hyper-partisan headaches. He may not.

“Swalwell is in a slightly different position because he has reached the end of his four term limit,” the source said. “To nominate him, Hakeem would need to seek a waiver to the rules, which McCarthy would presumably deny.”

Further setting the tone for the term, incoming chair Turner has called for an “immediate review and damage assessment” on the discovery of classified documents in Biden’s former private office in D.C. and Delaware home. In stark contrast, Turner last year called Trump’s egregious mishandling of classified documents “more like a bookkeeping issue than it is a national security threat.”

Rep. Mike Turner (Springfield News-Sun photo)

Turner has been a reliable ally of Trump on other issues. In February 2022, he promoted debunked lies that Hillary Clinton “spied” on Trump’s 2016 campaign and White House, even after the Special Prosecutor looking into such claims, John Durham, dismissed that interpretation.

Bringing Home the Bacon

As his star rises, less flattering aspects of Turner’s career may get renewed attention. While he has been a reliable booster of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base back in his district, where he helped add 10,000 jobs and secured $182 million for a new National Air and Space Intelligence Center there, he’s also been knocked by fiscally conservative watchdog groups for directing federal funds to pet projects in his district, such as $250,000 for a local theater and $4 million for Open Source Research Centers intended for Radiance Technologies in Fairborn, Ohio.

In April 2019, Citizens Against Government Waste named Turner “Porker of the Month” for leading the effort to “spend more taxpayer dollars on the most expensive weapons system in U.S. history,” the F-35 program, which he succeeded in relocating to Wright-Patterson. The stealth warplane continues to have performance problems. Turner may have his own in the closely divided new congress.

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