By Carrie Cordero
Updated 5:38 PM ET, Fri March 29, 2019
(CNN)The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence is imploding.
On Thursday, its nine Republican members demanded the resignation of the committee's chairman, Adam Schiff, saying they have "no faith" in the Democrat's continued leadership. The House Republican leader, Kevin McCarthy, tweeted out the letter in support.
Schiff was having none of it. He forcefully rebutted the call, point by point, explaining why the Trump campaign's actions were a national security and ethical problem, if not a criminal conspiracy.
This infighting must stop. Intelligence committees have a responsibility to put national security and intelligence oversight over partisanship. This committee's descent into the basement of partisan politics is doing lasting damage to its credibility.
Members of the intelligence committees have a unique duty: They provide a check on activities that necessarily take place out of public view. Created in the late 1970s as a result of executive branch abuses of intelligence agencies, the intelligence committees in the House and Senate serve as a proxy for not only the public, but other members of Congress who do not have access to details about the nation's intelligence activities.
Committee members see the most sensitive intelligence information, including about the most pressing threats to US security. The intelligence community, by law, must keep the committees fully informed and up to date about intelligence activities and failures.
For a brief time at the outset of the 116th Congress in January, things were looking up for the committee's functioning. Under Schiff's new leadership, the committee's first hearing was on the rise of global authoritarianism and featured foreign policy and intelligence experts warning of this rising trend. Behind the scenes, it appeared that the chairman was taking steps to enable the committee members and staff members to work together more effectively, even amid tensions at the leadership level.
Meanwhile, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has been conducting a thorough investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, and the leaders of that committee have held joint public appearances to convey their collaboration and seriousness of purpose.
Chairman Richard Burr, a Republican and Vice Chairman Mark Warner, a Democrat, have gone out of their way to stress that even if they do not agree on all policy matters, and even if at the end of their review they may not agree on conclusion, they can agree on facts. More broadly, in January, 11 Republican members of Congress joined their Democratic colleagues to keep sanctions against a Russian oligarch with ties to Vladimir Putin in place, offering a glimpse of bipartisan national security consensus.
That spirit is gone today. After Thursday's open conflict, it is difficult to see how the House Intelligence Committee will function as a cohesive unit working in the public's interest to protect the country from national security threats. The disintegration of bipartisanship is counterproductive to that mission.
Here is why:
To do their jobs, intelligence committees rely on the intelligence community to provide it. The community will be less likely to cooperate with congressional overseers when the motivations are or appear motivated by partisan politics. Partisanship corrodes the legitimacy of intelligence oversight. That harms the credibility of Congress, and the credibility of the intelligence community when it undertakes activities that may test the boundaries of the law, and can impinge on privacy and civil liberties.
Up until today, 2018 had seemed the low water mark in the House of Representatives, where we saw such political gamesmanship as the declassification of information about sensitive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act applications regarding a counterintelligence investigation of Carter Page, a former Trump campaign adviser. It was done at the direction of Devin Nunes, then the committee's chairman and now its ranking member.
President Donald Trump used his definitive authority then to declassify intelligence in a way that supported a political narrative. Not in recent history have we seen such a blatant political motivation for exposing intelligence information in a misleading way.
While the intelligence community has made substantial efforts in recent years to improve transparency about intelligence activities and legal authorities, its efforts need to be encouraged by congressional overseers in the committees.
When partisanship leads to information being selectively declassified in a way that creates a misleading narrative, that undermines the progress the community has made at improving transparency.
The partisanship on the House Intelligence Committee is at all-time high. That will lead to confidence in its important work shifting to an all-time low. Leadership in the House needs to fix this, and quickly.