Sasse: Let’s not conduct oversight “hot take to hot take”

posted at 8:41 pm on May 17, 2017 by Ed Morrissey

Why not? Isn’t that what we do now? And we includes members of Congress, who seem just as probe to instant overreaction as social media. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) warns against applying accountability “hot take to hot take” in an interview this morning with Hugh Hewitt, but does say that “there’s a lot here that’s really scary” in the swirling clouds of scandal:

BS: So there’s so much we don’t know, yet. I was in the SCIF three times yesterday, and obviously couldn’t get much information on this kind of a story. So I want to hold out skepticism about all that we don’t know. But just the fundamental alleged facts in there, it’s obviously inappropriate for any president to be trying to interfere with an investigation. We have three branches of government, not one, not 17. There are all sorts of virtues to what the founders were trying to create with our system of checks and balances, but it means investigations and prosecutions have to be somewhere, so they’re in Article II, and under the Justice Department, where you’ve worked before. But just because they’re in Article II doesn’t mean we should think of it as a linear chain of command to political partisan decision making in the White House. So there’s a lot here that’s really scary.

However, Sasse also warned everyone not to get ahead of the evidence. He rebuked colleagues in both parties who appeared to “sprint to the cameras last night to comment on things that we don’t often know much about,” such as what happens in private meetings. Normally, one would wait to see any notes and take testimony before attempting to reach conclusions, a process that everyone — Trump defenders and attackers alike — have tried to short-circuit over the last eight days especially. Sasse wants all the notes and tapes relevant to these discussions turned over to his committee so they can see where the evidence leads:

BS: I do. I want to put a qualifier on that. I am the chairman of the Oversight Subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee, and obviously some of the reasons I was in the SCIF yesterday is because I’m trying to organize, and I don’t want, I’m not prepared to talk about all that in public, yet. I’m trying to organize how I think about what we should be asking for in what order. You saw a bunch of people, both parties, frankly, sprint to the cameras last night to try to comment on things that we don’t often know much about. In the same way that you shouldn’t try to govern America tweet storm to tweet storm, you shouldn’t try to exercise oversight in America hot take to hot take. So I want to go slowly about the way we talk about this, but fundamentally, I do think all of Director Comey’s notes, and I think all, any and all tapes that exist in the White House, ought to all be turned over.

That process might end up being rather one-sided, as Politico reported earlier today:

Top White House officials learned of the looming New York Times story about a memo Comey wrote memorializing Trump’s request two hours before it went online. Aides rushed to ask Trump what he had actually told Comey. But the White House had no memos or tapes of the meeting to rebut the claims, several officials said. Trump didn’t even give an entire readout of his conversation, leaving staffers “actually unaware of what happened,” one official said.

“It’s not like we were in on the meeting,” this person said. “We had no idea. We still don’t really know what was said.”

Another official laughed when asked if Trump had really “taped” the meeting, as he’s suggested on Twitter: “If so, none of us have heard the tape.”

That might leave Sasse and others in Congress with a he said, she wrote situation that may never fully resolve itself. Sasse wants everyone to wait on jumping to conclusions until then, however difficult that might be in Hot-Take America these days.

However, Paul Ryan told the House Republican caucus this morning that he backs Sasse’s approach to oversight, no matter who’s in power:

Ryan’s comments signaled a stronger endorsement than yesterday’s of Jason Chaffetz’ demand for all records. It could be just a way to forestall calls for quicker action, but it still puts the issues squarely on the front burner of the Republican-controlled House.

Sasse tied this to a larger and more important point about the erosion of the rule of law in the US:

Again, it sort of begs a bunch of questions about why we’re learning things now in the order that we’re learning them. But let’s recognize that there’s no good way to learn about any of this stuff. We have had an erosion of the rule of law proper for years and years and years in this country. This isn’t the last four months. It isn’t the last 18 months of the ugly campaign of 2016. We have had an erosion of rule of law. But bigger than that, we’ve had an erosion of the conventions and the shared understanding of why the rule of law is so important. This city is not supposed to be the center of the world, and yet five of the seven richest counties in America are now the suburbs that ring Washington, D.C, because a river of money and all sorts of power, and our entire national mindshare flows to here like Washington’s the center of everything. Well, once Washington’s the center of everything, then it’s always going to be a shirts and skins exercise and a zero sum game. And so we the American people don’t together have an understanding of what servant leadership in Washington should look like so that people can live their lives in their own communities back home. Once you have that problem, everything is epic. Everything is the end of time, and that’s the way our media cycles read right now.

That might be the wisest take we get all month.


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