Former Indiana Republican senator Dan Coats was confirmed Wednesday as the country’s top spy chief, taking over as Congress demands more information from the intelligence community about alleged contacts between the president’s advisers and Russian officials.
The Senate voted 85 to 12 to confirm Coats as the director of national intelligence, a role in which Coats pledged to work closely with members of Congress to facilitate their various probes into allegations that Russia interfered in the 2016 elections for the purpose of aiding President Trump’s chances of victory.
Coats promised to provide lawmakers access to the intelligence community’s findings during his confirmation hearing last month before the members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. But just hours before the Senate voted to confirm him Wednesday, leaders of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence raised concerns that their access to documents about the Russia investigation was being limited at the very office Coats is taking over.
Committee chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) said that he was “a little uncomfortable” that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence had not yet provided lawmakers with the “proper computer technology we need to go through the evidence.”
“This has become a bit of a stumbling block for our investigators to actually be able to compile and get through the information,” Nunes said. “The bottom line is, we don’t have a computer out there to actually be able to catalog the information.”
Computers have proven to be a sticking point in congressional investigations before: In 2014, then-CIA Director John Brennan had to apologize to lawmakers after it was revealed that agency employees had spied on computers that were supposed to be reserved exclusively for congressional investigators’ use.
Ranking Democrat Adam B. Schiff (Calif.) nodded to that incident — but stressed along with Nunes on Wednesday that the lack of available computers was slowing down their investigation. To date, Schiff said, he has had to resort to taking notes by hand — notes he has to then leave at the ODNI facility — when he reviews the documents pertaining to the Russia investigation.
“We feel a real sense of urgency about conducting this investigation not only thoroughly but as swiftly as possible,” Schiff said. “So anything that slows us down is a problem.”
ODNI spokesman Timothy Barrett said in a statement Wednesday that the intelligence community has “been supporting the congressional intelligence committees and their investigations, and we will continue to do so.” He added that intelligence officials were working “to address the logistical challenges inherent in protecting the security of sensitive intelligence sources and methods.”
Both Nunes and Schiff expressed hope that the matter would be resolved soon.