POGO Report Details Best Practices for Congressional Investigations

Robust Congressional Oversight More Important than Special Counsel Investigation

A new report from the Project On Government Oversight, Necessary and Proper: Best Practices for Congressional Investigations, highlights the importance of strong congressional investigations. This report describes types of investigations and best practices that are applicable to the current Congressional investigations into Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election.

“The country must have credible, bipartisan, and public findings into Russian attempted interference with last year’s election,” said Danielle Brian, Executive Director. “Congress has a critical and unique role when it comes to independent investigations. And our report shows that major successful Congressional investigations over the past decades were properly resourced, supported, focused and empowered to deliver strong results and meaningful reforms. Right now, we do not believe the current congressional inquiries have all the necessary elements to make them successful, but it’s not too late.”

The Deputy Attorney General recently appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller as a Special Counsel for the investigation into international interference into the U.S. election and possible connections to President Trump’s campaign. However, the Special Counsel’s investigation is focused narrowly on potential criminal acts that can be prosecuted. Furthermore, Justice Department regulations do not require that the Special Counsel’s findings be made public.

“Congress can and should go beyond looking solely at criminal behavior to get a more complete picture. History shows that Congress can successfully investigate concurrently with Justice Department investigations. Whether an examination of Watergate or Teapot Dome, Congressional investigations proved critical while the criminal investigation proceeded,” Brian stated.

POGO’s analysis describes four key best practices, which, if adopted, greatly enhance the ability of congressional investigations to successfully arrive at strong findings and recommendations.

  • True bipartisanship
  • Adequate tools and resources
  • Clear focus
  • Leadership support

The current Senate investigations of the Russian attempted interference into the U.S. election are showing many strong signs that they will produce substantial findings and helpful recommendations. However, POGO sees the lack of sufficient investigative resources as troubling, and Senate leadership could do more to facilitate better coordination and to establish clarity of scope. By comparison, the House investigations clearly should pursue their investigations with stronger bipartisanship, as well as better clarity of scope and additional resources. An effective congressional inquiry could be accomplished through an existing standing committee, but at the moment essential elements are lacking for the current committee investigations. As a result, it is imperative that any congressional investigation into this matter follow all best practices, whether that investigation is by a standing or a select committee.

“Congress plays a constitutionally important and complementary role, both through its oversight and by looking for broader concerns that may require legislation to address. We need to see a Congress focused on doing its job and addressing the most serious issues of our day in a meaningful, credible way that will provide answers Americans deserve.”

The Brennan Center is also releasing a report, Trump-Russia Investigation: A Guide, outlining the different “investigative mechanisms available to the legislative and executive branches,” methodically highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of each option. 

“This is not the first time that a matter of national urgency has required a thorough investigation,” said Faiza Patel, co-director of the Brennan Center’s Liberty & National Security Program. “In fact, history is replete with important investigations that exposed wrongdoing, explained the stakes, and educated the public. Done right, these reflect American governance at its best.”

Follow the link to read the report.

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Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO’s investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.

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