Questioning U.S. intelligence directors on Tuesday, Angus King, I-Maine, gave his fellow senators a lesson on how to question top government officials.
First off, he made his questions — not self-promoting speeches — the centerpiece of his allotted time. This is an all-too-rare quality for senators on television. Unfortunately, when it comes to others like Kamala Harris, Ted Cruz, Bernie Sanders, and Rand Paul (although Paul claims he does the opposite), the temptation to play to their base often overrides the duty to seek necessary information from the executive branch.
Instead, King chose to push the assembled directors on a crucially important issue: strategic deterrence in cyberspace.
Asking how the U.S. can hope to secure itself in cyberspace if our focus falls so dominantly on defensive tactics, King made the directors uncomfortable. He knows that their impulse is to live in the silent world, saving capabilities rather than utilizing them. Yet King's job, as with all senators, is to look to the nation's long-term interests.
And in pushing the directors, King was able to get necessary information from them. CIA director Mike Pompeo basically stated that the U.S. had responded to cyber-attacks with more aggressive actions than public awareness would suggest.
Still, that's only half the story.
Because King wouldn't likely have been able to get the answers he was seeking had he taken a wholly adversarial approach of other senators. By asking questions that the intelligence leaders were able to answer, King earned the respect of those testifying. The senator knows that the intelligence officials cannot comment on classified material in an open setting and cannot proscribe policy choices that rightly belong to the White House and Congress.
By appealing to their patriotism, King was able to extract information from them.
Nevertheless, this is only one of many times that King has scrutinized the executive branch effectively. And for his example, the senator deserves credit for putting his constituents and country ahead of the typical bloviation.