Week 20: Revenge of the Nosy Senators

 In Politics

One unbreakable rule of the revenge genre stipulates that at an early point in the narrative, when the hero is about to fall to the villain, all action stops. The hero, kicked to the curb bleeding, delivers a soliloquy declaring that he will track down and punish the villain, no matter how long it takes, no matter what pain must be endured, no matter how great the cost, justice will be done. The villain doesn’t need to be in attendance for the speech; it isn’t for him, it’s for the audience. The speech rises and rises until it reaches its climax. You have two choices, the hero will say. Kill me now or spend the rest of your life looking over your shoulder, because I will be coming for you.

Mark Warner (D-Va.), ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, gave a squishy version of the revenge speech this week at a press conference he held with committee chair Richard Burr (R-N.C). He didn’t snarl like Liam Neeson does in the Taken trilogy. He didn’t slay 84 people as Keanu Reeves did in the first John Wick movie. Nor did he expire while trying to extract payback on a shark, like Robert Shaw in Jaws. But in giving his mid-term report, Warner seethed with the single-mindedness of Clint Eastwood cast in a movie about a U.S. senator.

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Warner directs this controlled fury against President Donald Trump, who has taunted the committee with tweets disparaging the Russian affair as a hoax. This week, Trump zapped the committee again, demanding that it direct its attention to investigating the “fake news” media. Warner has good reason to be aggrieved. The president’s Republican supporters want every Russian inquiry, including special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, shut down as politically motivated wastes of time. But like a crusading detective being pressured by the mayor to wrap things up before the election, he’s resisting.

“This feels like it’s taking a long time. It is taking a long time,” Warner said at the press conference. “But getting it right and getting all the facts is what we owe the American people.”

Burr held that note, telling the pressies that he would not realize his previously stated hope of concluding the investigation this year, and would not predict an end date.

The senators conceded that their investigation—which has gathered almost 100,000 pages of documents and conducted more than 100 interviews—has yet to bag any quarry. “The issue of collusion is still open,” Burr said, by which he meant “not proven.” This was an odd comment for Burr to make. Russians dangled information in front of Donald Trump Jr. in June 2016 that “would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father,” according to the email to Junior that set up the meeting. “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” Sure seems like collusion happened. What’s left to be resolved is how much of it went down, where and when. At least that’s what Senator “Dirty Harry” Callahan would say.

The real senators did, however, put another coat of varnish on findings of the intelligence community that Vladimir Putin’s people sent a torrent of propaganda through social accounts and hacked systems with the recklessness of teenagers during the 2016 campaign. Russia peppered Wisconsin and Michigan with Facebook ads just before the election. Was it just a coincidence that campaign director Paul Manafort sent a memo urging Trump to focus on those two states? And the Russians are still mucking around in our politics, the senators said, indicating that the revenge cycle will take several more turns before it ends. If it ever ends.

“Normally the way these things wrap up is you start running out of new information. That’s not the case,” said committee member Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.). “We’re months and months into this, and we keep finding plenty of more stuff to look into.”

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