The investigations into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election and its potential ties to the Trump campaign continue to make headlines. But who’s doing the discovering? Well, in part, two congressional committees. There’s the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. What are these committees and what do they do?
In a nutshell, they both oversee all the U.S. intelligence agencies. The panels were formed in the ‘70s as watchdogs to guard against overreaching by the intelligence community. Many thought that was the case when the U.S. tried to assassinate foreign leaders such as Fidel Castro and spy on antiwar activists during the Vietnam War.
Throughout their four-decade history, these committees have investigated everything from the Iran-Contra affair to Iraq intelligence to Benghazi. By and large, they’ve tried to do it in a bipartisan way.
But sometimes it’s become political. The latest example is the House committee, run by Republican Devin Nunes, who suggested that conversations with associates of President Trump were picked up in the course of investigating foreign intelligence targets.
That prompted the committee’s ranking Democrat, Adam Schiff, to say, “I think it is gravely concerning to the members of the committee that the chairman would receive information that is pertinent to the scope of our investigation and instead of sharing that information with the committee would share that information with the White House.”
Nunes has since apologized, but many Democrats say that the congressman — an “executive committee” member of Trump’s presidential transition — is the wrong person to lead an inquiry.
So far, the Senate investigation, led by Republican Richard Burr and Democrat Mark Warner, has been far less contentious — and leaders have come together to denounce Trump’s wiretap allegation against President Barack Obama.
Regardless of where the investigation leads, and who leads it, when you hear about the House or Senate intelligence committees, at least you can say, “Now I get it.”