Yesterday, historian and author Diana West published an essay about a question that came up during the testimony of former CIA Director John Brennan, given during yesterday’s public portion of a Congressional investigation into alleged Russian influence on our 2016 election. This afternoon I plowed through viewing the above New York Times YouTube video of that session. I’ve posted the entire segment for the benefit of my readers who may be interested in hearing exactly what was said and by whom.
Mr. Brennan is strongly of the opinion that the Russians were very interested in making sure that Hillary Clinton lost the election to Donald Trump and actively interfered through using sophisticated computer technology, among other methods, to ensure that that event occurred.
Aside from opining that the Russians wanted to help Mr. Trump and harm Mrs. Clinton, most of Brennan’s testimony deals with general intelligence-gathering policy questions and answers, how various reports are prepared and reviewed, and how decisions are made about who gets what information. The material was rather dry, until Representative Brad Wenstrup’s (R-OH) turn came round.
Wenstrup maneuvered around the subject of how and when a close relationship between Russian interests and a particular American individual of importance might become apparent to, and attract the interest of, members of the intelligence-gathering community. Wenstrup alluded to a remarkable conversation caught on an open microphone between then-President Barack Obama and then-Russian President Medvedev.
From Diana’s essay, here is the transcript of that infamous Obama-Medvedev conversation:
Obama: On all these issues, but particularly missile defence, this, this can be solved but it’s important for him to give me space.
Medvedev: Yeah, I understand. I understand your message about space. Space for you …
Obama: This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility.
Medvedev: I understand. I will transmit this information to Vladimir [Putin]…
At which point the following exchange took place between Wenstrup and Brennan:
Wenstrup: “Now you talk about the playbook, sounds like “I stand with you” — that’s pretty strong relationship — this is certainly an influentional American, and we’re talking openly about elections. So again, I’m just — I’m not trying to launch another investigation here, but I am concerned about the process. So you weren’t sitting as the director at that time, but … that’s a pretty disturbing image, I think, to a lot of Americans. … So would you question this interaction, or that type of conversations taking place? And again, I’m just trying to understand process, of how it moves from CIA to FBI to DOJ.
Brennan: “That was a direct conversation between the heads of government and state between two countries. I’m, I’m not going to respond to your –“
Wenstrup: OK, but I think that’s what we’re [talking about]. Im just again trying to get some understanding of what sets off a red flag, you know, and when do you refer to law enforcement — I know you weren’t the director at that time, um, but, boy, that just hits all the things you were talking about in the playbook: elections, influentual American, and building a relationship … That’s interesting you can’t respond to a personal conversation, but this what what we’re talking about.
Brennan: I try to avoid getting involved in political issues, partisan issues, and so with respect, Mr. Wenstrup, I just will not recognize that question.
What? What? What did he say? Did I read that correctly?
“I’m not going to respond…” and “I just will not recognize that question.”
And the thought immediately raced through my mind:
Since when does a witness giving testimony in a Court of Law, or before The Congress of the United States of America, get to pick and choose which questions he will or will not answer?
I know that in an American Court of Law, such a refusal by a witness to answer a non-self-incriminating question would result in a Contempt of Court citation from the presiding Judge. Contempt of Court is a crime.
So, my curiosity getting the best of me, I went into the Cornell Law School website and took a look at the elements of Contempt of Congress. Here’s what it says:
Congress has the authority to hold a person in contempt if the person’s conduct or action obstructs the proceedings of Congress or, more usually, an inquiry by a committee of Congress.
Contempt of Congress is defined in statute, 2 U.S.C.A. § 192, enacted in 1938, which states that any person who is summoned before Congress who “willfully makes default, or who, having appeared, refuses to answer any question pertinent to the question under inquiry” shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and subject to a maximum $1,000 fine and 12 month imprisonment.
Before a Congressional witness may be convicted of contempt, it must be established that the matter under investigation is a subject which Congress has constitutional power to legislate.
Generally, the same Constitutional rights against self-incrimination that apply in a judicial setting apply when one is testifying before Congress.
It looks to me like John Brennan’s outright refusal to answer Wenstrup’s question meets all of the elements to prove commission of the crime. Do you think anyone on the committee is going to move for a Contempt citation?