Courtney sees Nunes memo through a family FBI prism

Joe Courtney’s parents, Bob and Dorothy Courtney, at their wedding ceremony in 1945. (Courtesy of Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District)
Joe Courtney’s parents, Bob and Dorothy Courtney, at their wedding ceremony in 1945. (Courtesy of Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District)

U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney couldn't help but think of his deceased parents this week, as a memo attacking the FBI spun Congress into new lows of partisan animosity.

Courtney uses the slang term G-Man to describe his father's wartime service for the FBI, working in Manhattan, chasing down German spies.

His mother, too, worked for the FBI in New York, as a secretary. Bob and Dorothy Courtney were married in 1945 in St. Patrick's Cathedral. They moved back to Connecticut, where Bob grew up, after the war.

His parents' service in the FBI, the Democratic congressman from Connecticut's 2nd District, told me Friday, is part of "family lore and legend."

And it couldn't help but influence his reaction to what he called President Donald Trump's "attacking the legitimacy of the FBI as a whole" in supporting the release of the memo crafted by U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes and "partisan staff" from the House Intelligence Committee.

"I think what is unfolding is so appalling and dangerous," he said, decrying the harm also being done to a committee that has historically been designed to operate outside partisan politics.

Instead, the committee is being used to discredit the Russian election meddling investigation by the special counsel, the congressman said.

"Clearly there is an endgame here," he said.

It seems to be especially offensive to the congressman because he remembers so well from his father's own service an institutional bent to steer clear of politics.

"My father was a Republican, but not a big active Republican, and he despised politicizing the work of intelligence in law enforcement and military service," Courtney said. "It turned him off viscerally."

In fact, the congressman said, his father "never quite totally approved" of Joe Courtney's political career, which, before Bob Courtney died in 1997, included several terms in the Connecticut General Assembly.

"I had started a family during that time, and he clearly had a much stronger preference for me to focus on my wife and kids than campaigns," he said.

Bob Courtney, a graduate of Holy Cross and what was then the Connecticut School of Law, was an especially good fit for the FBI, whose director, J. Edgar Hoover, had a preference to hire agents who attended Jesuit colleges, Courtney said.

His father, then a lawyer in his 30s, spent the war years tracking German spies and saboteurs, Courtney recalled. His mother, who was a stenographer, was in the room when German spies who had landed by submarine on Long Island were interrogated, he said.

How curious that her son ended up as a leading advocate for the development of this country's own submarine force.

I reminded Courtney of the laments I have heard him make in the not-so-distant past about the terrible partisan gridlock that has descended upon Congress.

The release of the Nunes memo this week highlights the worsening environment in Washington, he said.

The president, he added, in attacking leaders of the intelligence agencies whom he personally selected, demonstrates "there is no limit to the collateral damage" he is willing to accept in fending off the Russia investigation.

Courtney said he finds the contradiction of the Republicans, who have made, since the end of World War II, the issue of national safety such a bedrock issue, now "interfering with an investigation into Russian interference" as something "hard to get your head around."

I asked the congressman a question that looms large in my mind these days, as a showdown between special counsel Robert Mueller and Trump and his allies seems to loom large.

Does he believe that this Congress would be able to proceed with an impeachment if that is what the evidence uncovered and laid out by Mueller directs?

I didn't like the answer.

"It is hard to see how the Judiciary Committee, under its present leadership, or the Intelligence Committee is capable of executing a nonpartisan inquiry into whatever finding comes out of the special counsel," he answered.

Maybe that is what makes this week's partisan attack on the FBI, the people trying to keep us safe, long since German soldiers landed on Long Island, so especially unsettling.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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