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Gary Hart: ‘New Church Committee’ is an outrage


To legitimize otherwise dubious investigations, Congress sometimes tags them after a previous successful effort. Thus, the new select committee proposed by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, which plans to investigate the “militarization of government”, is described as “the new committee of the Church”, after the group of senators who investigated the FBI, CIA and other groups from 1975-76.

As the last surviving member of the original Church committee, named after its chairman, the late Senator Frank Church of Idaho, I have a particular interest in distinguishing between what we accomplished then and what the Republicans authoritarians seem to have in mind now.

The outline of the committee, which Rep. Jim Jordan will convene, remains vague. Reading between the rhetorical lines, supporters seem to believe that national government agencies have targeted, and may still be targeting, center-right individuals and groups, possibly including right-wing individuals and militias who participated on January 6. 2021, insurgent attack on the Capitol.

This is almost completely at odds with the purpose of the original Church committee, which was founded in response to widespread abuses by government intelligence agencies. As we sought to protect the constitutional rights and freedoms of American citizens, we were also obligated to protect the integrity of the intelligence and security agencies, which were also founded to protect those freedoms.

Our committee brought US intelligence agencies under the control of Congress to prevent the violation of the privacy rights of US citizens and to end covert operations abroad that violated our constitutional principles. Rather than strengthening oversight of federal agencies, the new committee appears designed to prevent law enforcement and intelligence agencies from enforcing the law, especially laws against insurgent activity in our own democracy.

It’s one thing to intercept phone calls from people organizing a peaceful march for civil rights and it’s another thing to intercept phone calls from people organizing an assault on the Capitol to prevent the certification of an election. national.

Rather than weaken our intelligence and law enforcement agencies, the Church committee sought to restore their original mandates and focus more on partisan or political manipulation. Our commission was bipartisan, leaning neither to the right nor to the left, and Conservative senators, including Vice-Chairman John Tower, Barry Goldwater, Howard Baker and others, strove to prevent Liberal or Progressive members, including President Church, Philip Hart, Walter Mondale and myself, to weaken our national security.

They don’t need to worry about it. We all understood, including me, the youngest MP, that attacks on federal law enforcement and national security would not be welcomed by our constituents. Unlike in the 1970s, today’s threat to homeland security comes less from foreign sources than from domestic groups seeking to replace constitutional order with authoritarian practices that challenge historical institutions and democratic practices.

Among quite a number of reforms proposed by the Church committee were permanent congressional oversight committees for the intelligence community, an endorsement of the 1974 requirement that major clandestine projects be approved by the president in a “conclusion writing, the notification of the presidents of the oversight committees of certain clandestine projects as they are undertaken and the elimination of assassination attempts against foreign leaders.

Despite the concern of conservatives at the time, to my knowledge, no significant clandestine activity has been compromised and no classified information has been released as a result of these reforms in the almost half century that has passed. elapsed since their adoption. In fact, surveillance and reporting requirements, by providing political cover, functioned as a shield for the CIA.

Evidence was provided of the effectiveness of these reforms in the so-called Iran-Contra controversy in 1985-87. The Reagan administration sold arms to Iran and used the proceeds to fund covert operations in Nicaragua against its socialist government. Assigning responsibility for this program proved difficult until a document authorizing it was located at the White House. President Reagan did not remember signing it; however, it bore his signature. This kind of accountability would not have been possible before our reforms were passed.

The rules of the Senate and the House establish the standing committees and the special committees that each house can create. The House is clearly free, within the framework of these rules, to create a committee to protect what it perceives as an important part of its base. And if its aims are ultimately to protect authoritarian interests, it is presumably free to do so and to accept criticism from the press and public. It is scandalous to call it a new committee of the Church. Trying to disguise a highly partisan effort to legitimize anti-democratic activities by hiding it under the cloak of a successful bipartisan committee from decades ago is a mockery.

Gary Hart is a former United States Senator from Colorado and the author, most recently, of “The Republic of Conscience”.

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