On Monday, the House Intelligence Committee holds its first hearing on Russia’s hacking of the election. (No date has yet been set for the Senate Intelligence Committee’s parallel investigation.) The list of initial witnesses does not inspire confidence in the House committee’s effectiveness.
It should be relatively easy to get at the truth of whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia over the hacking. I have some relevant experience. When I was a member of Parliament in Britain, I took part in a select committee investigating allegations of phone hacking by the News Corporation. Today, as a New York-based journalist (who, in fact, now works at News Corp.), I have followed the Russian hacking story closely. In November, I broke the story that a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court had issued a warrant that enabled the F.B.I. to examine communications between “U.S. persons” in the Trump campaign relating to Russia-linked banks.
So, I have some ideas for how the House committee members should proceed. If I were Adam Schiff, the leading Democrat on the committee, I would demand to see the following witnesses: Carter Page, Paul Manafort, Richard Burt, Erik Prince, Dan Scavino, Brad Parscale, Roger Stone, Corey Lewandowski, Boris Epshteyn, Rudolph Giuliani, Michael Flynn, Michael Flynn Jr., Felix Sater, Dmitry Rybolovlev, Michael Cohen, Jack Dorsey, Mark Zuckerberg, Peter Thiel, Robert and Rebekah Mercer, Stephen Bannon, Sebastian Gorka, Michael Anton, Julia Hahn and Stephen Miller, along with executives from Cambridge Analytica, Alfa Bank, Silicon Valley Bank and Spectrum Health.
There are many more who need to be called, but these would be a first step. As to lines of questioning, here are some suggestions.
To the White House director of social media, Dan Scavino: “You tweeted an anti-Semitic meme about Hillary Clinton from Donald Trump’s account during the election. That meme appeared to have come from an automated account on a Russian-controlled network of malware-infected computers, or botnet. What knowledge did you have of the existence of a network of fake Twitter profiles that supported your campaign and were partisans of Russia?”
To the Trump campaign adviser and businessman Carter Page: “You have said that the Trump campaign approved your July visit to give a speech in Moscow. Provide the committee with a full list of everyone you spoke to during that trip and describe precisely what was discussed. Were sanctions ever a topic?
“When you met the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, what was the conversation?
“When you returned to Moscow after the election, you presented slides comparing Rex Tillerson and Hillary Clinton as secretaries of state before Mr. Tillerson was announced as Mr. Trump’s choice. Who told you Mr. Tillerson would be the pick?
“Stephen Miller, then a campaign spokesman, stated that Jeff Sessions was putting together the foreign policy team. How were you recruited to that team? What contact did you have with its head, Mr. Sessions?
“Did you at any time discuss leaking, hacking, WikiLeaks, the release of emails phished from the Clinton campaign chairman, John Podesta, or any other information not publicly available on Mrs. Clinton, or any person related to her campaign, with any Russian national, in the United States or elsewhere?
“Describe any and all financial discussions you had with any person during the campaign about the sale of a 19.5 percent stake in the state-owned Russian oil company Rosneft.”
To the former Alabama senator, now attorney general, Mr. Sessions: “Describe any communications, not merely meetings, you had with Russian citizens during the campaign. Did you ever discuss a shift in policy on Ukraine to be exchanged for the lifting of sanctions?
“Describe in full the content of your conversations with Mr. Kislyak. Were you aware that the Russian ambassador was also alleged to be a recruiter of spies?
“Did you select Mr. Page as a foreign policy adviser for the Trump campaign? If not, who did? Why did you consider him suitable to serve on your team?
“To your knowledge, did you break the law during the campaign? If so, how? To your knowledge, did anyone else related to the Trump campaign break the law during the campaign?
“Did you have any knowledge during the campaign of serving F.B.I. agents and police officers whom Rudy Giuliani, Erik Prince and Mr. Flynn claimed were leaking information to them? Did you advise anybody involved that this was against the law? If not, why not?
“Did you know Mr. Flynn was lying to Vice President Mike Pence about his calls to Russia? Did you know Mr. Flynn misled Vice President Pence on the matter of his son’s security clearance?
“Do you have any knowledge, direct or indirect, whether Mr. Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen, or any member of his family, traveled out of the country to meet with Russians during the campaign? Do you have knowledge of whether Mr. Cohen, or any Trump associate, directly or through shell companies, made payments either to hackers or to internet companies that ran a botnet of fake accounts and websites on behalf of Russia?”
On Nov. 7, I reported that sources had told me of the existence of a FISA warrant targeting two Russia-linked banks. That warrant gave permission for the communications of American citizens that were incidentally collected as part of that investigation to be examined. (I did not report the existence of a wiretap, nor do I have any knowledge of such.)
This is an issue of the utmost consequence. If Mr. Trump’s tweet alleging that Trump Tower was wiretapped on the orders of President Barack Obama was untrue, Mr. Trump is guilty of a slur. If, however, the president tweeted real news, he revealed the existence of intercepts that cover members of his team in a continuing investigation. That would be obstruction of justice, potentially an impeachable offense.
The framing of the committee’s questions matters immensely. Legally, witnesses cannot confirm or deny even the existence of a current national security investigation. The very mention of a “FISA warrant” would allow Mr. Sessions to avoid the substance by excusing himself from commenting. Committee members must therefore word their questions without reference to any case. I would simply ask Mr. Sessions this:
“Was the president’s tweet about a wiretap at Trump Tower, to your knowledge, illegal? If so, to whom have you reported this offense?
“To your knowledge, did any person illegally inform the president that there was a wiretap at Trump Tower?”
The president’s unwillingness to answer questions about contacts between his campaign team and Russian officials, and the pattern of contradictory and misleading statements on those contacts, are toxic. Never in American history has a president been suspected of collaborating with a hostile foreign power to win an election. The founders provided three equal branches of government to protect the republic. The American people now depend on the House committee to do its job and uncover the truth.
Louise Mensch, a New York-based journalist and author, who was a Conservative member of Britain’s Parliament from 2010 to 2012, is a digital media executive at the News Corporation.