Justin Amash details how the Intelligence Committee kept important documents from House members

Justin Amash speaks at LPAC

While some continue to defend that House members had access to important classified NSA surveillance documents before having to vote on it, Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) reported that he and his colleagues were only contacted to learn they would have the opportunity to review the classified document through an internal communications system for Congress that is used by members when they need to send each other interoffice mail. Because of the great volume of messages, few House members or staffers check the messages posted through the “e-Dear Colleague” system.

According to Amash, the House Intelligence Committee made the document available for review shortly before Congress’ summer recess and without notifying staffers directly, which is the procedure when members must be made aware of important intelligence briefings.

After the Intelligence Committee notified members through the “e-Dear Colleague” system, Rep. Amash informed some of his colleagues of the briefing on his own. According to Amash, the only representatives who actually showed up at the briefing were the ones that had been contacted by Amash or his office after the message was sent to members via the internal messaging tool.

Amash used his time before attendees of the Liberty Political Action Conference to point out the inaccuracy of claims that Congress members are able to obtain access to vital information by attending classified briefings alone. According to the congressman “what you hear from the intelligence committees, from the chairmen of the intelligence committees, is that members can come to classified briefings and they can ask whatever questions they want,” but reality does not corroborate these claims. “If you’ve actually been to one of these classified briefings,” Amash continued, “what you discover is that it’s just a game of 20 questions.”

“You ask a question and if you don’t ask it exactly the right way you don’t get the right answer. So if you use the wrong pronoun, or if you talk about one agency but actually another agency is doing it, they won’t tell you. They’ll just tell you, no that’s not happening. They don’t correct you and say here’s what is happening. So you actually have to go from meeting to meeting, to hearing to hearing, asking asking questions — sometimes ridiculous questions — just to get an answer. So this idea that you can just ask, just come into a classified briefing and ask questions and get answers is ridiculous.”

According to a spokesperson for the House Intelligence Committee, informing members of Congress “about the intelligence issues on which Members must vote” is a top priority. But that seems hard to digest; especially if you consider the obstacles members must come up against in order to obtain any solid response from members of the intelligence committee regarding documents they must review to vote on, but are never given a chance to take a look at in the first place.

This guessing game helps the committee to maintain important details under wraps for quite some time while keeping lawmakers from having access to crucial information. Representatives like Amash are focused on making sure House Intelligence Committee members know they can’t go on playing this guessing game forever.

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