As America grapples with the reality that Russia meddled in the 2016 election, it is abundantly clear that we need robust, thorough, and transparent investigations into exactly what happened so that we can implement reforms that will ensure it never happens again. It is critical that any investigations into Russian involvement be transparent, expedient, and involve cooperation from both sides of the aisle. That is why a bi-partisan group of experts with Congressional oversight and national security experience under both Republican and Democratic administrations have come together and released a set of principles detailing benchmarks for the Congressional investigations into Russia involvement in our elections.
While getting to the bottom of exactly what happened may take time, and certainly should be comprehensive, the U.S. is facing another set of elections in just over a year. It is critical that the investigations move expeditiously with adequate support from both sides of the aisle and a strong commitment to transparency. The benchmarks lay out four key areas by which the public can evaluate whether the investigations are meeting the highest standards of transparency and accountability. These key areas include:
- Scope and Status of the Investigation
- Comprehensive Bipartisan Cooperation
- Transparency of the Investigation
- Public Reporting on the Investigation
Scope and Status of the Investigation: It is critical that the scope of any investigation allow the findings to “go where the facts lead it” and not limit the investigation to just the scope as it is initially set out. Each Congressional Committee undertaking an investigation should commit to communicating with the Special Counsel as well as each other in order to reduce inefficiencies and ensure that the committees do not undermine the efforts of the Special Counsel.
Comprehensive Bipartisan Cooperation: Maintaining public confidence in the investigations into Russian involvement in our elections is paramount. Therefore, each Committee should commit to working in a corporative, bipartisan fashion. Hallmarks of bipartisan cooperation include consultation between the chair and ranking member on procedural moves such as requesting interviews, calling witnesses, seeking documentary evidence, etc; requiring that relevant documents be shared with the full committee and be available to staff at all times; and ensuring that all Committee members have opportunities to provide input on all aspects of the investigation including any proposed committee report.
Transparency of the Investigation: In service of maintaining public confidence in the investigations, each committee should commit to upholding the highest standards of transparency. These standards include producing a full public report at the end of the investigation, holding public hearings unless the chair and ranking member jointly articulate a specific reason for proceeding in closed session, and releasing all non- classified documents pertaining to the investigation.
Public Reporting on the Investigation: Allowing the public opportunities to review the progress of these investigations is essential to upholding the integrity of the investigations. Each Committee should commit to issuing regular reports or updates including information on the staff dedicated to the investigation, the budget of the investigation, the number of hearings held, the number of witnesses interviewed, the number of document requests and their results, and finally any relevant documents themselves.
Congress has the best opportunity- and therefore the profound responsibility- to unearth the truth about attempts to infiltrate the American electoral process. Any Congressional investigation must therefore be wholly comprehensive and uphold the highest standards of transparency, accountability, and cooperation. The integrity of our democracy depends on it.