House Speaker Johnson plays dangerous game of politics with intelligence agencies

Perhaps the entry on my resume I'm proudest of is my four years as counsel to the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Once, at a classified hearing, the late Sen. Barry Goldwater, the father of modern conservatism, turned around and asked me a question. The committee's Republican staff director started to answer, appalled that Mr. Conservative would want to hear from a staff member who had been appointed by a Democratic senator. “I didn't ask you,” Goldwater snapped. “I asked him,” indicating me with a nod of the head.

When it came to matters of national security, there was no majority or minority, Republican or Democratic, on the Intelligence Committee. We were Americans, one and all.

All this came to mind when House Speaker Mike Johnson designated Republican Reps. Ronny Jackson, of Texas, and Scott Perry, of Pennsylvania, to fill open seats on the House counterpart to the Senate Intelligence Committee.

What motivated Johnson to appoint these two to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence? Was it because of their national security expertise? No, Johnson says, it was in no small part because the recently convicted Donald Trump recommended them. So, it's that the former president respects and supports the U.S. intelligence agencies in keeping the country safe? Not exactly.

At the 2018 Helsinki Summit, then-President Trump indicated he believed what Russian president Putin, not U.S. intelligence agencies, told him about meddling in the 2016 presidential election. “President Putin says it's not Russia. I don't see any reason why it would be,” he told reporters. In a 2017 White House meeting with the Russian foreign minister, Trump reportedly disclosed highly classified information relating to valuable intelligence. And of course, a trial in Florida is pending about Trump absconding with and hiding highly classified information taken from the White House.

Back in the 19th century as Russia expanded south toward India and the British pushed north from India, “the Great Game” for influence and power between the two empires was played out, move by countermove. Having the best insights into Russian, Chinese, North Korean and terrorist intentions is anything but a game today. When I was on the committee staff, there was an intelligence failure at the heart of another great game when U.S. intelligence was caught unaware by the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. The 9/11 Commission reported that a CIA warning in 2001 that al-Qaida might attack the World Trade Center was largely ignored. Good intelligence matters. Paying attention to it matters, too.

The congressional oversight of intelligence is vital to ensure that the United States has top-notch intelligence and that secret agencies observe the constitutional rights of Americans. Count me skeptical as to whether Speaker Johnson's appointees will further these goals.

Jackson was seated in the House of Representatives on Jan. 3, 2021. With no proof or evidence, he accused the CIA of being involved with the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. In July 2022, the U.S. Navy demoted Jackson from admiral to captain after an investigation by the Defense Department's inspector general for drinking while on duty and other inappropriate actions “not in keeping with the standards the Navy requires of its leaders.”

In December 2020, Perry discussed actions to dispute Biden's election victory in texts to then-Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel. In the week before tallying the electoral votes from the election, he sought to have then-Vice President Mike Pence delay the count. Former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson has said Perry was “central to the planning of Jan. 6.” He also sought a pardon from then-President Trump for his role in seeking to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

Rep. John Duarte, a California Republican, made clear the motivation behind the appointments was partisan politics and not national security or civil liberties when he said, “It's unquestionable that there's lawfare being practiced against Donald Trump by the agencies and by the Department of Justice, so I don't blame him for issuing (sic) one of his faithful on the Intelligence Committee.”

The Washington Post spoke to a “high-ranking Republican” who said that Speaker Johnson “has reversed course on this committee, and has now made it political again. He has reversed all the advances, which could harm America's preparedness. This is not a place to play games.”

The FBI investigated me for months before I could assume my job with the Senate Intelligence Committee which would give me access to some of the country's most carefully guarded secrets. I doubt whether Jackson or Scott would pass an FBI security check, but they don't have to.

In order to sit on the House Intelligence Committee with broad access to national secrets, the two representatives simply needed the speaker to appoint them. Speaker Johnson was happy to do this in response to the recommendations of a private citizen who disdains the work of the intelligence agencies, supports the credibility of the president of Russia, is under indictment by a grand jury for stealing classified documents and awaits sentencing for falsifying business records to influence a presidential election,

Speaker Mike Johnson said upon taking office: “I am a Bible-believing Christian. Go pick up a Bible off your shelf and read it. That's my worldview.” Perhaps he should reread this excerpt from Chapter 38 of the Book of Isaiah: “Put your house in order.”

© 2024, Creators

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