Put yourself in Angus King’s place.

You’re a member of the U.S. Senate, the greatest deliberative body in the world.

You’re looking for answers to questions that go to the core of a scandal rocking our very democracy: Who said what to whom about President Trump’s decision to fire FBI Director James Comey last month? And when, where and why did they say it?

Yet even as you press ahead, one after another sworn witness from the Trump administration essentially replies, “Sorry, Senator. I don’t feel like answering that right now.”

Now I’ll add my question: In two widely watched Senate Intelligence Committee hearings – one last week and the other Tuesday – was Maine’s junior senator as genuinely ticked off as he appeared to be?

“Yes,” King replied flatly in an interview Wednesday. “I just got more and more irritated that they weren’t answering the questions and had no basis for doing so.”


Some would say that King, whose comfort with the camera goes back to long before he entered politics more than two decades ago, was tailor-made for the daytime TV drama now playing out on Capitol Hill.

Starting a week ago with Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency Director Adm. Mike Rogers, and then again Tuesday with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, King has drawn widespread praise for telling it like it is to Trump’s three stooges.

His spot-on message: With no justification whatsoever, they’re turning a blind eye to their legal obligation to answer the committee’s questions about Russia’s involvement in last year’s election, as well as Trump’s tampering with efforts to get to the bottom of it.

Rogers famously told King last week, “I feel it is inappropriate” to testify about his communications with the White House. That prompted a visibly irked King to retort, “What you feel isn’t relevant, Admiral. … Answer the questions.”

Then there’s Sessions, who informed King that he was “protecting the right of the president” to assert executive privilege and keep private all communications in question – even though Trump has asserted no such privilege.

Looking back on Sessions’ bizarre claim, King said, “I fully expected going into that hearing yesterday that the first thing he was going to say was, ‘The president has instructed me, under the executive communications privilege, to not answer questions about conversations I may have had with him.’ I fully expected that. But he didn’t.”


Instead, Sessions and the rest of Team Trump are playing King, the committee and, for that matter, the entire country, for idiots.

And they’re getting away with it – at least for now.

Maddening? You bet it is.

Case closed? Not even close.

As King noted, the intelligence committee’s work in recent weeks has mushroomed far beyond well-documented Russian interference with last year’s election (including troubling evidence that they attempted to attack state election systems).

It now envelops a White House stuck in what King calls a “defensive crouch,” for no apparent reason other than to shield its collective backside from rumblings of collusion and/or obstruction of justice.


King likens it to the “Dance of the Seven Veils,” with Trump blurting out startling revelations one minute, while in the next his underlings hide behind the protection of a “privilege” that is as disingenuous as it is transparent.

Take Sessions, for example. Having recused himself from all things Russian, how can the attorney general possibly explain away his involvement in Trump’s decision to fire Comey – when Trump himself has publicly admitted that he canned the FBI director because of the “Russian thing?”

And how can guys like Coats and Rogers refuse to answer questions without clearance from the White House, even while Coats conceded to King last week, “I’m not sure I have legal basis” for doing so?

Which brings us to the stark contrast between the Senate’s investigation into this burgeoning mess and the one underway – at least for now – by special counsel Robert Mueller.

Theoretically, the Senate Intelligence Committee could find Sessions, Coats and Rogers in contempt of Congress for refusing to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. But with a Republican majority in control, don’t hold your breath.

Mueller, on the other hand, can charge tongue-tied witnesses with obstruction – or worse. Tell him you don’t “feel” like answering and he’s likely to ask how you feel about a five-figure fine and a few months in the slammer.


“He has tools more readily available,” King said. “He will get at these questions, I suspect.”

Meaning this show has only just begun.

If you’re looking for a sequel to Watergate, in which a clumsy cover-up dwarfed a two-bit crime and brought down a presidency, stay tuned to Mueller. Nothing, after all, gets people chatting like the threat of a grand jury indictment.

But if you’re looking for something “really dangerous,” as King put it, keep an eye on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Of all the things he’s heard (or not) from the executive branch in recent days, King said, perhaps the most galling is its complete lack of curiosity over what exactly Russia did to us last year.

Sessions actually told King this week that, when it comes to the intelligence community’s rock-solid belief that the Russians meddled in the 2016 election, “I know nothing but what I’ve read in the paper.”


(Cue good old Sgt. Schultz, from the classic 1960s hit series “Hogan’s Heroes,” as he backs toward the nearest exit: “I see nothing! I know nothing! …”)

“He said that!” King marveled. “That’s what’s so worrisome to me. They’re so focused on defending themselves that they aren’t focused on the threat, which is very, very real and continuing. This is not a one-off. This is not the Watergate burglary. This is a year-and-a-half-long effort by an adversary to infiltrate and interfere with our most basic democratic process.”

Trump apologists, as always, will call this fake news.

They’ll point to people of intelligence and integrity like King and, just as Trump did with Comey, scream “Showboat! Grandstander! Nut job!”

Let them.

Our country is in crisis. And this is no time to stop asking questions.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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