Washington – Although it boosted his visibility, Rep. Jim Himes says the House Intelligence Committee’s newly concluded Russia probe has left him disappointed and left the important oversight panel “relatively toothless” to tackle similar missions.
While Republican members said their work was finished, Committee Democrats on Tuesday vowed to continue their work and release their own report.
“Sadly, unless we’re sucessful in continuing this investigation, it will be difficult for the country to ever know what happened and to respond with one voice,” Himes said. But without the power to subpoena witnesses or documents, the Democratic probe is likely to be no more than a bully pulpit.
Himes, 51, became a familiar face to many with his many recent appearances on CNN, MSNBC and other networks, where he was asked to comment on the latest controversy embroiling the Intelligence Committee’s investigation of Russian meddling in U.S. elections.
The second-ranking Democrat on the panel, Himes, D-4th District, frequently echoed sentiments expressed by the panel’s top Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif.
But, the leader of the centrist “New Democrat Coalition,” Himes sometimes broke with his party.
For instance, he annoyed fellow Democrats by defending fellow Greenwich resident Hope Hicks, who was then the White House’s communications director, for allegedly telling the panel she told “white lies” in public to protect the president. Some believe the committee’s leak of that testimony led to Hicks’ swift and unexpected departure from the White House.
Republicans on the panel said Hicks was set up by some Democrats and her remarks taken out of context.
“There was a damaging leak out of the committee about her admission that, I guess, she had told ‘white lies,’” he said on CNN. “I was very disturbed by that. I’m a hundred percent sure there’s nobody in this city who hasn’t told white lies on behalf of their boss, and I’m pretty sure there’s no one on the planet who hasn’t done that.”
Himes has a seat on the Financial Services Committee because, as a former Goldman Sachs vice president he has expertise in that area. In addition, may of his constituents work on Wall Street.
His second job, as a member of the House Intelligence Committee, was born of his interest in the nation’s intelligence committee. He says spy work is extremely interesting and vital to the nation’s security, but also “scary” and in need of oversight.
“Oversight of the intelligence community is absolutely essential,” Himes said.
Born and raised in Peru, Himes said he had a knowledge of the CIA’s checkered history in Latin America. A Rhodes scholar, Himes also has more of an internationalist’s view than many members of Congress.
Initially, many hoped the House Intelligence Committee would conduct a bipartisan probe of whether Russia coordinated with the Trump campaign to influence the 2016 elections. But the investigation deteriorated into partisan leaking and sniping, dueling memos on the FBI’s investigation of a former Trump campaign staffer and other embarrassing exhibitions of dysfunction.
It ended Monday evening when GOP committee members announced they had finished a 150-page draft report – without the aid of any Democrats – that won’t be available to the public for weeks.
“We have found no evidence of collusion,” said Rep. Michael Conway, R-Texas, in announcing the completion of the report.
Conway said the worst things the committee had discovered were “perhaps some bad judgment” and “inappropriate meetings.”
To Himes, the “premature ending” of the investigation is “an enormous mistake.”
He said Americans deserve to know whether their system was infiltrated and exploited and what the government is doing to protect “the foundations of democracy.”
“I do not feel that our committee has adequately answered those questions or that we have spoken to all the witnesses necessary to write a full and accurate report,” he said. “We can only conclude that the investigation is being shut down for partisan, political reasons.”
He said the activities of Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., the panel’s chairman, had “poisoned the well,” making bipartisan cooperation impossible.
Besides promoting a “memo” critical of the FBI that some say was aimed to discredit the Justice Department’s Russia probe, Nunes declined to interview key players and, according to Democrats, failed to seek campaign, government, intelligence-community, and corporate records that may have aided the investigation.
“It’s Hear no Evil, See no Evil, Speak no Evil,” Himes tweeted Monday night after learning the investigation was wrapping up.
President Donald Trump on Tuesday said “We’re very happy with the decision by the House Intelligence Committee saying there was absolutely no collusion with respect to Russia.”
“I understand they’re going to be releasing hundreds of pages of proof and evidence. We are very, very happy with that decision,” the president said. “It was a powerful decision that left no doubt. I want to thank the House Intelligence Committee and all the people involved.”
A Silver Lining
Himes said allowing key witnesses to claim executive privilege may have hurt the investigation the most, and badly damages the Intelligence Committee’s ability to conduct future investigations.
“We let the people closest to the president (former White House senior adviser Steve) Bannon and Hicks to refuse to say anything about what happened after the election,” Himes said. “They didn’t push back on the White House.”
Himes said allowing witnesses to claim executive privilege – or the right to withhold information in the public interest – for questions relating to the presidential transition period before Trump was sworn into office, “is a terrible historic precedent that is going to bite the GOP at some point.”
He said the GOP may seek to launch another “Bengazi-type” probe against a Democratic administration only to discover they have been hampered by the precedent set in the Russia probe.
Himes also said “fortunately (special counsel) Robert Mueller is doing a good job.”
As far as the personal impact of the year-long House Intelligence Committee probe, Himes said the long hours questioning witnesses, sometimes for 12 hours at a time, and other duties – all accomplished behind closed doors – often made him feel he had two full-time jobs.
“It probably hurt my home life,” he said. “And my ability to review legislation. But, being deep in the minority, I often don’t see bills I like.”
Despite the “utmost disappointment and frustration” of the Russia probe, Himes said he hopes to continue to be a member of the intelligence panel – and is in line to be its next chairman if he wins re-election and the House turns Democratic.
A “silver-lining” to the end of the investigation, is that the panel will be able “to get back to our terribly important job of oversight,” Himes said.
As far as mending fences in a committee where GOP members once considered building a wall between Republican and Democratic staffers, that will take time, Himes said.
“I think we have a lot of rebuilding of trust to do,” he said.