Republicans boycotted a Wednesday briefing on Russian intelligence methods organized by Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell, who had hoped the committee’s members could gather in a bipartisan manner to hear non-controversial testimony from an expert.
Weeks ago, House Intelligence Committee staff and Swalwell reached out to a national-security specialist, Naveed Jamali. In the 2000s, Jamali was a double agent in the service of the FBI after the Russian government tried to recruit him as an asset.
Every single Republican lawmaker on the House Intelligence Committee was invited to the members-only briefing on Wednesday. Not one showed.
“I want [the Republicans on the committee] to know that they had an opportunity to go, and I hope we can show the bipartisan cooperation that a lot of us have experienced before the investigation began,” Swalwell told The Daily Beast. “This was an effort to do that, and I will continue to reach out.”
The idea was for Jamali to brief House Intelligence Committee on Russian methods for targeting and recruiting intelligence assets. The briefing was held in a private setting, and rather than discussing Russia-Trump ties, looked only at the Russian government’s tactics. It was billed as an unclassified meeting that took place outside of the committee’s secure briefing area, and was not formally organized by the committee.
“It was an informal opportunity for all members of the committee to meet someone who had a real-life, Russian recruiting experience,” Swalwell said. “So he shared with members how Russia used business entanglements to approach a U.S. person and to seek influence.”
Jamali briefed the lawmakers on his personal experience as an FBI double agent who interacted with the Russian government, noting that Russian intelligence often didn’t have a specific purpose for recruitment—they found assets and looked for a use for them later.
“When I look at what is out in the public domain… about Michael Flynn and others, my concern is that there are echoes of what the Russians did with me, in what happened in [the presidential elections of] 2016,” Jamali told The Daily Beast. “It takes years to recruit an asset… ‘they say someone is of interest, let’s recruit them’ and then it could be years after they’ve been recruited when they’re put into play.”
The incident was the latest example of the dysfunction, partisanship, and paralysis that’s gripped the panel since Chairman Devin Nunes blew up the committee’s Russia investigation.
Swalwell said after Jamali’s briefing that he had expected Republicans would attend, and had been assured by some that they would try to make it. A spokesman for Nunes had no comment Wednesday about the decision by Republicans on the committee to skip it.
The committee met for regular business Monday evening to pursue normal intelligence oversight duties, but did not discuss in detail how to restart their investigation into Russian inference in the U.S. presidential election. The committee will meet again for an all-hands briefing Thursday morning.
Two weeks ago, Nunes held a press conference with a shocking assessment: Information about Trump transition officials had been “incidentally collected” during legal foreign surveillance by the United States government. The chairman then rushed to brief the president—a subject of the committee’s investigation—without telling the rest of his committee what had happened.
In the intervening days, it was reported that Nunes had visited the White House privately the night before his press conference, and that his sources were White House staff. Nunes then cancelled a planned open hearing for the committee, where it had expected to receive testimony about Russia from senior national security officials who had served in the Obama administration.
The committee remains fractious and relationships are frayed. There is no word on if or when the panel’s hearings on Russia might resume.