Wednesday, February 21, 2018




McNeely: Russia probe memo echoes in Texas politics

Feb. 7, 2018 at 11:45 p.m.


Echoing in Texas is the much ballyhooed memo from the House Select Committee's chairman, Republican U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes, claiming the FBI's investigation into Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election depended too much on a dossier from former British spy Michael Steele.

Democrats dispute that, but it's become an election issue — especially in the sprawling West Texas congressional district represented by Republican Will Hurd, one of three Texans on the committee. (The other two are Republican Mike Conaway of Midland and Democrat Joaquin Castro of San Antonio.)

Hurd, of Helotes northwest of San Antonio, has represented the 23rd District since winning it from Democrat Pete Gallego of Alpine in 2014.

He won a rematch in 2016 with Gallego, who is not running again this year. The 23rd, which stretches from San Antonio to El Paso is considered the only truly swing district in Texas, one that can go either way in a general election.

Hurd, a former Central Intelligence Agency undercover agent for almost a decade, is among the 11 Republicans who make up the intelligence committee's majority. They voted to release the controversial memo while refusing to allow a rebuttal memo from the committee's 10 Democratic members.

Republican President Donald Trump has claimed the memo provides vindication for him from the Russia probe and is an indicator of concerted FBI hostility toward him in his campaign for president.

Democrats, led by the committee's ranking Democrat Adam Schiff of California, have called the Nunes memo purposely incomplete and misleading, and an effort to undermine the investigation, and thus the nation's intelligence agencies.

Two of Hurd's Democratic re-election competitors this year have released statements criticizing Hurd for undermining U.S. security agencies. Gina Ortiz Jones, a 13-year Air Force veteran and national security expert, called Hurd's vote to release the Nunes memo "reckless."

"Will Hurd is putting Americans at risk for partisan gain. As a former member of the intelligence community — in and out of uniform — I find it incredibly disturbing that Will Hurd voted to release a highly disputed memo which the FBI warned would have grave consequences if made public," Jones said. "The men and women that put their lives on the line everyday to collect the information needed to protect our country deserve leaders that will handle that information responsibly — not ones that will put them in harm's way for political gain."

Hurd, in a column in The Washington Post, defended himself.

"My vote to release the memo was not about discrediting the special counsel's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election," he wrote. "It was not about debasing the hard-working men and women serving in the FBI.

Rather, I supported the release because I do not agree that an American citizen's civil liberties should be violated on the basis of unverified information masquerading as intelligence."

At the same time, he defended the investigation by former FBI director Robert Mueller into the Russian involvement.

"Let me be clear, special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's investigation must continue to ensure that our democracy was not compromised by Russian interference," Hurd wrote.

Jones followed before the day was over.

"Today, Rep. Will Hurd said, 'This memo is not going to erode national security,' — that's simply not true. When politicians like him put politics over national security processes, while sacrificing critical sources and methods to release a highly misleading memo, he's failing the American people, and he's jeopardizing the work of our former intelligence community colleagues."

Her blast was followed by one from Jay Hulings, who also is seeking the Democratic nomination to oppose Hurd in November.

"What a joke. Nothing but a bunch of panicked misdirection masking nonsensical civil liberties," Hulings' statement said. "Hurd voted to release classified information, from an ongoing investigation, in a highly misleading format, in the face of FBI and DOJ (Department of Justice) opposition for one reason only — to undermine the Mueller investigation. As John McCain put it, Will Hurd is "doing (Russian President Vladimir) Putin's job for him."

Look for this to get hotter.

Health and Human Services investigation ... House Speaker Joe Straus has called for an investigation into the Health and Human Services department's contracting practices.

The Texas Freedom Network, a progressive group that fights efforts to limit women's access to abortion, asked for investigation of a $7 million grant for reproductive health care to the Heidi Group, which opposes abortion.

It failed to deliver on its promises, the network said, but got nearly $1 million in funding before the department said it would distribute the remaining funding to other contractors. That shouldn't happen, the group said.

— Dave McNeely is an Austin columnist who covers Texas politics. His column appears Thursday.

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