In 1973, when Senate Watergate Committee counsel Fred Thompson famously asked, “Mr. Butterfield, are you aware of the installation of any listening devices in the Oval Office of the president?” the committee was under extreme pressure from the Nixon White House. Even in the face of a constitutional crisis, the committee plowed ahead and fulfilled its core constitutional duty of executive branch oversight within our system of checks and balances. The committee went on to prove that no one is above the law, not even the President of the United States.
Today, congressional investigators are under a lot of pressure as well. On Thursday a Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, when asked about the possibility of a thorough investigation into the Clinton email allegations, said, “They really don’t want to [mess] with us on this. Trust me.” This public threat from a Democrat Member of Congress tells me all I need to know about the still-unfolding Clinton email situation. Democrats are worried sick about the specter of a public congressional fact-finding investigation running parallel to the ongoing FBI investigation. But threats such as this – and there will be more – must not trump doing what is right, and that is to move forward with the investigation in Congress.
Some are arguing that the FBI investigation is adequate and that a congressional probe isn’t necessary. I couldn’t disagree more and with good reason. FBI investigations and congressional investigations are not the same thing. The FBI is investigating possible crimes and whether or not to recommend a federal prosecution. In the case of an FBI investigation, no facts or evidence will be made public during or after the investigation. The American people will never know what the FBI discovered or considered, or who they questioned. A congressional investigation by comparison will be conducted in the open, with facts and witnesses appearing regularly, allowing for public inspection.
The Democrats will argue that this investigation will be nothing more than a political witch hunt because Hillary Clinton is running for president. The answer to this charge is simple. Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State for four years, during which time she decided it was appropriate to run her official government communications through an unsecure, undisclosed personal email server. Just because she’s decided to run for president does not mean this activity can’t be investigated by Congress. In fact, I would argue a person running for president should face this kind of scrutiny from Congress if the allegations are legitimate. And no one on either side of the aisle can say with any seriousness that the Clinton email setup doesn’t raise questions. Even Senator Bernie Sanders said the questions being raised are “valid.”
Congressional investigations that garner this much attention and controversy can be seen as an inconvenience to some politicians who might be charged with doing the investigating. While it’s true that investigations such as this are not for the faint of heart, it is Congress’s constitutional duty to conduct oversight of the executive branch and see if all this smoke amounts to any fire.