Senator Sheldon Whitehouse did not come to play at today's Judiciary Hearing. Most Democrats on the committee wanted to ask FBI Director Chris Wray about the intelligence failures of the MAGA sedition riot of January 6, and the dangers of white supremacist violence (many and dire.) Most Republicans wanted to ask him about how many Antifa the FBI has rounded up as suspects in the insurrection (zero, and are you f*cking kidding me?)
Senator Whitehouse wanted to know, before he bothered to even ask about the intelligence leading up to the attempted overthrow of our government, why the hell the FBI seems to think it doesn't need to answer any of Congress' questions for the record. He began, "Before we get to the business of this hearing, we've got some, in fact, a lot of unfinished business. Do you know how many questions for the record the FBI failed to answer in the last four years?"
Wray's answer was, of course, that he didn't. Sen. Whitehouse informed him, "Well, I'll tell you. There were nine hearings in in committee, in which the FBI was a witness, and in seven of them they got exactly zero questions for the record. Seven. Zero questions. Can you explain that?" Wray's answer was, of course, that he could not.
And, we were off.
When my husband Sheldon gets going, there is no stopping him.
"Are you going to do any better with the questions that you're getting right now? You've been asked questions for the record. Are they going into the same, whatever it was, HOLE our questions for the record go to die at the FBI?" he demanded.
Wray hemmed and hawed about some inter-agency process red-tape nonsense, on which Sen. Whitehouse immediately called bullsh*t. He interrupted Wray's answer to say that "inter-agency process" is "immensely convenient for the executive branch. But our questions don't direct the interagency agency process, do they? And that interagency process don't respond to us in Congress, does it?" Wray had nothing to say to that.
Then Whitehouse make sure to point out to Wray that when the GOP members of Congress wanted information from the FBI about the Trump/Russia investigation, somehow THEY were able to get it quite easily and quickly. How were THEY saved the hassle and wait of that inter-agency process? Crickets from the witness table.
Whitehouse decided to get to the heart of the matter. "Let me ask you just a little sidebar. Do you think Congress deserves responses to questions from executive agencies as part of our oversight responsibility?" Finally, Wray was able to answer in the affirmative. My main squeeze Sheldon then asked him what they were going to do about this problem of the fact that they have questions from way back in 2017 that have yet to be answered.
Wray talked about adding more staff, and hoping to work on the backlog and turn around time, but it was about as reassuring and convincing as Trump promising to release his taxes once the audit was done. So Sen. Whitehouse pulled out the big guns. "Well I will commit to you, that I'm going to make sure that this gets done. And if it means stopping nominees, if it means doing whatever it takes to get through this problem, we're going to get through this problem," he promised. "Because it is just plain wrong for the executive branch of government in a separation of powers country, to refuse to answer questions of the elected representatives of the legislative branch. It is just wrong."
Whitehouse acknowledged that in a 50/50 committee it would be hard to get subpoenas, and that even if they could, the courts would not enforce them. However, he said, "the courts said we could hold up appropriations for the FBI and for executive agencies that aren't responsive. That is our tool. Your people do good work, Director Wray, I don't think you want that to be our tool."
My Senate Husband finished by quoting Woodrow Wilson's words about the importance of Congressional oversight: "Woodrow Wilson once said that the oversight function, the investigative function of Congress is often to be preferred even to its legislative function." He was not about to allow Wray to continue to stonewall him.
Then Dir. Wray made a grave error. See, when you've just taken a verbal beating like that, you stay quiet, with your hat in hand, and promise to do better. But Wray decided to try to worm his way into Sen. Whitehouse's good graces.
"Senator, I commit to working with you to try to see how we could improve our responsiveness and to getting you more of the information you need," he began. "The one thing I will say is that I could assure you that in terms of my responsiveness to this committee, to the members of this committee or to Congress overall, it is absolutely not, speaking only for myself now, on a partisan basis."
Oh, dear. Sheldon?
"Well you run an organization that seems to have operated under very different rules. And it was YOU running that organizations. So let's NOT make these distinctions right now."