In her recent post, “20 Questions That Should Be Answered by the Russia Investigations,” Faiza Patel enumerates a series of questions that should be addressed by the various investigations. There are great as far as they go, but here are a few more that I would recommend:
1. Doesn’t America need a full accounting of all foreign efforts to influence the election? If so, do the investigatory entities – and particularly the Senate Intelligence Committee – consider their inquires limited to just allegations about Russian influence, or can they look into all efforts at foreign influence in the 2016 election? Shouldn’t the examination also include past instances of foreign efforts so that Americans can fully understand the scope and context of the issue?
2. In March of 2016, Hillary Clinton told CNN’s Jake Tapper that foreign leaders had contacted her about wanting to endorse her to “stop” Trump. She noted that the Italian prime minister had done so publicly but she declined to disclose who had said this to her privately. Shouldn’t the public know who those foreign leaders were who wanted to influence the outcome of the election?
3. Did Secretary Clinton report those foreign contacts to any government authorities? Given her reported security clearance, did she have any responsibility to do so? Should reporting foreign contacts, irrespective of whether or not a candidate (or staff) has a security clearance, be nevertheless mandated by campaign laws?
4. While it may be impossible for a candidate to stop a foreign leader from offering to endorse her or him, does the public use of the proffered offer constitute acceptances of a “thing of value” for the purposes of campaign finance laws? Put another way, didn’t Secretary Clinton consider the information about the desire of foreign leaders to help her to be of value (e.g., they enhanced her image to voters, and they undercut Trump as a potential world leader), and that’s why she mentioned it during her campaign?
5. It is also reported that some foreign leaders supported Trump. Did they contact Trump, or was it the reverse? Indeed, what kind of interaction – if any – with foreign leaders is (or do we want to be) proper during campaigns?
6. Given that Trump and most of his team had little experience in government, and many on Clinton’s team might likewise have had little background in counterintelligence matters, would it make sense for Congress to mandate that the FBI make available to all campaigns training in intelligence tradecraft that may be employed against them so as to make them better aware of the threat?
7. Did the foreign nations whose leaders contacted Secretary Clinton during the campaign attempt to take any other actions to influence the outcome of the election? And how about those of the leaders with whom Trump spoke? Should we accept overt, public activities by foreign governments as an expected part of the campaign process, even if they prove of real value to a candidate? Is it better to draw the line at covert activities, especially those involving activities such as hacking email accounts?
8. Patel references former FBI Director James Comey’s activities. Did his memos (about his conversations with President Trump regarding the Russia investigation) that he retained after leaving government service contain unmarked but actually classified information as some media have reported?
9. Did Comey act reasonably in assuming information about private discussions with the president (or president-elect) related to an ongoing intelligence investigation to be fully unclassified and disclosable to the press? If the memos that Comey provided to his friend who did not have a clearance had to be retroactively marked as classified, do FBI classification protocols need to be re-examined?
10. During the time Comey maintained his memo file about his interactions with Trump, did the FBI adjudicate any relevant Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests? If so, did the proper authorities consider the memos in making their determinations (if any)? In other words, were the adjudicators even aware of the existence of the memos? If not, did Comey’s handling of what he said was unclassified information result in any erroneous or incomplete responses to FOIA requests during the period he was Director? Do we need more legislation in this area?
11. Prior to his disclosure to the media, was Comey obliged to submit nonpublic information about Trump for a prepublication review irrespective of whether or not it was classified? Does oral disclosure of nonpublic information to a third party with a view towards publication exempt the former director from prepublication review? Does Comey’s reported multi-million dollar book contract impact that assessment? Regardless, does Congress need to legislate in this area to better protect public officials’ privacy?
12. According to CNN, last summer Comey reportedly acted on “Russian intelligence he knew was fake” in closing the Clinton investigation, because he was worried that if the information became public it would undermine the investigation. At the time, he reportedly did not tell Congress that he doubted the validity of that information. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) assessed the situation this way:
The FBI director knew that the information he relied upon to jump into the 2016 election was fake, that he basically took over the Department of Justice’s job based on a fake email from the Russians. That, to me, is a stunning story. From Congress’s point of view, he never told us it was fake. So he needs to be held accountable.
Do we need legislation in order to ensure that the FBI director keeps Congress fully informed about foreign efforts to influence the election, especially when “fake news” is involved?
13. Allegedly, the U.S. (including during the Obama administration) has a long history of meddling on foreign elections. Should Congress legislate limits to (or even end) this practice? If through hacking or other espionage techniques the U.S. comes into possession of accurate information that might sway an election in an unfriendly country to put into power a regime more congenial to U.S. interests, should the U.S. expose it for that purpose?