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Will the Senate Save the Russia Probe?

As the House intel probe descends into chaos, the Senate prepares for its own open hearings this week on Russian interference in U.S. elections.

Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

Amid all the scandal and drama surrounding the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russia, the Congressional body that comes out looking best is the silent Senate.

The Senate Intelligence Committee will have its time in the spotlight this week as it holds its first open hearings on prior Russian “active measures” and influence operations in the world. The panel has been essentially quiet on the progress of its investigation since it was announced in January.

The investigation has remained bipartisan, with members of both parties continuing to support the ongoing probe, and without any of the bickering that has characterized the House’s efforts.

“This is the most important thing that I’ve ever done in my public life,” said Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the panel, on NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday. “We know that the Russians massively interfered in our elections… And we have the series of people that are very closely affiliated with the president who’ve had extensive ties with Russia.”

In response to a tweet about the need for an independent commission to investigate Russian interference in the U.S. elections, Republican Sen. John Cornyn, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, pledged that his panel would fill that need.

“The Senate Intelligence Committee is conducting a bipartisan investigation that will earn the country’s confidence,” Cornyn wrote.

On Thursday the committee will hear testimony from two panels, which include former NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander and other experts on Russian influence campaigns.

Meanwhile, the House Intelligence Committee investigation continues to reel after its independence and credibility were badly undercut last week.

A divisive hearing with the FBI director led to the revelation that the bureau was undertaking an ongoing investigation into ties between Trump associates and Russia. Committee Chairman, Republican Devin Nunes, held a shocking press conference in which he announced that Trump transition officials were “incidentally” surveilled, and then briefed the White House before his own committee.

“This committee was doing its best work when Nunes and [top Democrat Rep. Adam] Schiff were working together and giving joint press conferences,” Rep. Eric Swalwell, a Democratic member of the committee, told The Daily Beast. “Mr. Nunes took an off-ramp from this investigation to conduct his own intelligence service… and without giving it to the committee, took it over to the president… Mr. Nunes needs to find an on-ramp back to this investigation.”

Trey Gowdy, a Republican on the committee, said that he thought the health of the committee was “fine,” but that he preferred that the probe continue in private, rather than in open hearings.

“I want you and your viewers to ask themselves, ‘Why are we satisfied with every other facet of culture having serious investigations done confidentially?’ The grand jury. Judges meeting with attorneys. Police officers interviewing suspects,” Gowdy said on CBS’ Face the Nation. “All of that is done confidentially and we are more than satisfied with those investigations. And yet when it comes to Congress, we think we ought to have a public hearing. One hundred times, those two witnesses [the FBI and NSA directors who testified last Monday] said they could not answer the question in that setting. Why in the hell would we go back to that setting if the witnesses can’t answer the questions?”

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The House committee appears to be tilting toward that view. Nunes said late last week that his panel was indefinitely postponing a previously agreed-upon public hearing with national security officials, in favor of a closed hearing with the FBI and NSA directors.

“Perhaps that is something the White House didn’t want to see,” Schiff said Sunday on CBS. “I can’t otherwise account for why we would have this abrupt cancellation of a hearing that both the chair and I had committed to doing.”

In a role reversal, this week the House probe will meet behind closed doors, while the Senate probe will have its time in the sun.