On Wednesday the leaders of America's intelligence agencies appeared before members of the Senate Intelligence Committee for a hearing about Russian interference into the 2016 presidential election and any possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
It didn't go well, with the nation's top national intelligence leaders refusing to talk. They were not bound by any executive privilege claim by President Trump. Nor were they discussing classified information, which is not permitted in an open hearing.
Several senators were visibly and audibly upset with the immobile faces refusing to even utter 'yes' or 'no' to the senate panel that oversees them. New Mexico's Dem. Sen. Martin Heinrich was aggressive with all the silent men who refused to speak, making a notable criticism of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein with the words "At this point, you filibuster better than most of my colleagues."
Sen. Angus King bordered on professional belligerence with NSA Chief Michael Rogers for responding to his questions -- speaking in a manner that I personally applauded as I watched what appeared to be all of America's top cops standing in unity for President Trump, no matter what he did or didn't do. There is no doubt that Sen. Angus King's behavior could be described as 'contentious' and I say thankfully so given the absolute fact that Russia tried to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.
From my point of view, I found the refusal to speak of the witnesses to be disconcerting. In the terrible tension that exists between Americans and our government, citizens are looking for integrity, honesty and an acceptance of responsibility to us. There was no sense of that obligation, as our highest-ranking intelligence officials sat before the nation as Trump's men.
This reality -- formulated in my minds of everyone watching the hearing early-on in the testimony -- was in the mind of California Sen. Kamala Harris when she began speaking in a critical line of questioning with Rosenstein around the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller, now in charge of a full investigation into the Russian probe and any involvement by Trump and/or members of the Trump campaign.
The media's talking heads can't seem to agree on whether or not Mueller -- who was appointed by Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein -- would be given full independence in the Russia probe. This is probably the most critical guarantee of a satisfactory outcome -- whatever the findings -- in the minds of most Americans. For us, Harris' line of questioning was solid and on point.
There is no doubt that Rosenstein sought to dance around the senator's direct and simple questions, as she sought a 'yes' or 'no' answer from Rosenstein about whether Mueller's investigation would remain free from interference from him (technically Mueller's boss) and President Trump himself.
In a move that astonished many -- and clearly most women based on reactions on social media -- the Republican chair of the committee Sen. Richard Burr, interrupted Sen. Harris, cutting her off before correcting her on national TV. Burr explained that members of the committee should "provide the witnesses the courtesy, which has not been extended, fully across, for questions to get answered." Arizona Sen. John McCain had previously chimed in to chastise Sen. Harris, before Burr admonished her.
Rosenstein did not answer, refusing to either accept or reject Harris’s demand. “I am confident, Senator, that Director Mueller, Mr. McCabe, and I … will protect the integrity of that investigation,” Rosenstein said. “That’s my commitment to you and that’s the guarantee that you and the American people have.”
“So, is that a no?” Harris asked. Rosenstein did not respond, sipping his water instead.
Politico recounts the exchange, filling in much more detail about Rosenstein's explanations as to why he couldn't give a simple 'yes' or 'no' answer to Harris' question.
There is no way of interpreting the actions of Sen. Burr, who in my opinion has been a steady and fair leader of these proceedings, than to say that he applied a special standard for monitoring the questioning behavior of Sen. Kamala Harris, who is a seasoned prosecutor and former Attorney General of California. ~ Anne