Rumors: Congress to investigate Bush in Obama Era?

Here’s something interesting from my favorite new Washington gossip blog, Unattributable:

According to one Democratic senator, the Senate Judiciary Committee has been discussing the possibility of holding major hearings to examine the activities of the Bush Administration.

The form and scope of such hearings have yet to be determined, but this senator, and member of the Senate Judicial Committee, is pressing for something along the lines of Church-Pike–a bicameral endeavor that would address the full range of executive misdeeds.

For those unfamiliar with what blogger Constance means by “Church-Pike,” she’s referring to the landmark House and Senate investigations of the 1970s into intelligence abuses that discovered a massive amount of sanctioned illegality, including assassinations, domestic spying and more. Correcting the abuses discovered by the Church-Pike hearings are the reason we have, for example, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Church-Pike basically cleaved the intelligence community into “before” and “after” eras. Depending on your politics, you see it as either a watershed moment for open government or a watershed moment for Congress to infringe on the president’s prerogatives.

To do this again would be a huge, huge undertaking, so I’m skeptical. Constance’s item says the Senate leadership isn’t really on board with the idea, and it’s not hard to see why: the GOP will spin any effort at post-facto accountability as a backward-looking partisan witch hunt. But so much about torture, warrantless surveillance, and extraordinary rendition remains unknown thanks to the Bush administration’s utter refusal to declassify important information. And if that remains the case, it’s hard to see how administrations to come feel any incentive to follow laws that the Bush team either undermined or flat-out broke.

If this does happen — a big if — keep an eye on Sens. Russ Feingold, Dianne Feinstein and Sheldon Whitehouse. They’re the Democratic senators on both the judiciary and the intelligence committees. (No Republicans are on both committees.) That dual perch gives them a massive advantage in any prospective accountability hearings, and no small amount of power.