In the world of toxic partisan politics in Washington, Sen. Jim Risch found an oasis of sorts in the Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence – where he is a senior member.
The committee generally has carried on a tradition as a collection of bright minds and deep thinkers who dig into the complexities of national security issues. It’s a group that, for the most part, puts itself above partisan politics. If you walk into a committee room and don’t know the players, chances are you’d never be able to distinguish the Republicans from the Democrats.
That’s the way the committee does its business, and has for as long as Risch has served. But when politics does enter the picture – and it does on rare occasions – then things can get messy. Those high-minded senators who shun partisan politics suddenly turn into your everyday variety of … well … Democrats and Republicans.
Such was the case as the committee wrapped up its investigation of whether President Trump worked with Russia to rig the outcome of the 2016 elections. You’d think that a no-nonsense committee, which spent more than three years investigating and producing a mind-numbing five volumes of information, would come up with some definitive conclusions. The five volumes could have boiled down to this: “We don’t know anything … make up your own minds.” And the politicos have done just that.
Risch voted against final entry, saying the committee should have made a stronger statement. “After more than three years of investigation by this committee, we can now say with no doubt, there was no collusion,” Risch and his Republicans wrote as part of the report. In their view, it should be period – end of story.
“Of course, they couldn’t just say it (no collusion),” he told me. “The language was negotiated between the chairman and the vice chairman, a Republican and a Democrat, and they wanted to come together on something. So, they wrote … and they wrote … and they wrote … but never could say that it (collusion) didn’t happen.”
That’s how Republicans see it. Democrats, from Hilliary Clinton to Joe Biden, presented a different view, saying there is solid proof – with committee Republicans and Democrats signing off with the report -- that Trump and the Russians locked arms to rig the 2016 election.
As committee Democrats wrote, the report “recounts efforts by Trump and his team to obtain dirt on their opponent from operatives acting on behalf of the Russian government.” Democrats claim that Paul Manafort, the former chairman of the Trump campaign, schemed with the Russians and was a high security risk.
Period, end of story, right?
Not so, says Risch. “He was convicted of stuff, but he has not been convicted of this (collusion),” the senator said. “As for him being a security risk, that’s an easy allegation to hurl.”
So, what we have is what Risch described as an “exhaustive investigation” by the Senate Committee – along with special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s equally “exhaustive” investigation, lengthy impeachment proceedings in the House and a trial in the U.S. Senate in which Trump was acquitted. And the only answers we’re getting is from the politicians on both sides of the aisle.
Here’s Risch’s bottom line: “They can’t prove there was collusion, and the reason they can’t prove it is because there is no evidence of it.”
But there is clarity that Russian President Vladimir Putin and his soldiers did some funny things four years ago.
“That’s another issue entirely, and you can write pages about that,” Risch says. “Make no mistake, Putin and his henchmen conducted a calculated and despicable campaign to undermine the 2016 election. There’s concrete evidence of that, and they will try to do it again. They have been doing this for decades, and not just in the United States.”
As for Trump, Risch says, he had nothing to do with it. “If you want to criticize Donald Trump, there’s all kinds of stuff you can talk about. But not this.”
We’ll see on Nov. 3 if voters agree.
Chuck Malloy is a long-time Idaho journalist and columnist. He may be reached at email@example.com