Congress

‘The Report’ has advice for young Capitol Hill staffers

You never know where you’ll cross paths again in Washington

Denis McDonough, center, who was a top aide to Sen. Tom Daschle and later White House chief of staff, provided valuable career advice to former Senate Intelligence staffer Daniel J. Jones, both in real life and in the movie “The Report.” (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The movie “The Report” is primarily about the CIA’s torture program, but it’s not without a bit of career advice for young congressional aides.

One of the oldest lessons in Washington, D.C., is that you never know where you are going to run into people later in their careers.

Early in the movie, Daniel J. Jones, the Senate Intelligence Committee staffer portrayed by Adam Driver, is seen years earlier, meeting with Denis McDonough (played by Jon Hamm), then a senior aide to Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota.

[Senate Intelligence Committee in focus on C-SPAN and the big screen this fall]

Jones and McDonough would cross paths again years later, with Jones serving as the lead investigator on a report that McDonough, as chief of staff to President Barack Obama, was more than wary about releasing.

The real-life Jones said that early-career interaction actually took place, and McDonough provided valuable guidance.

“I had met Denis through Pete Rouse, who was Sen. Daschle’s chief of staff — later became Sen. Obama’s chief of staff, and of course Pete’s known for connecting everyone,” Jones told CQ Roll Call in an interview for a recent Political Theater podcast about the movie.

Rouse was among the best-known inside operators in the Senate, so much so he was known as the “101st senator.”

“Pete thought it would be great if I talked to Denis. I was coming out of grad school. I wanted to work on national security issues on the Hill, and that exact conversation took place,” Jones said. “I met with Denis and Denis said ... we’ve got tons of kids here from grad schools doing national security policy. What we don’t have is people who have that experience and they’ve worked at the CIA or the FBI.”

“It was really great advice that Denis gave me, and it’s exactly what I did,” he said. For Jones, it would be a tour of duty at the FBI before making his way to the halls of the Senate office buildings.

Jones would eventually go on to lead the Senate Intelligence Committee investigation on the use of so-called “enhanced interrogation” techniques during the presidency of George W. Bush. That’s a role he may never have been suited for without first working elsewhere in the national security apparatus.

“I actually had nothing to do with politics my whole career. I left grad school and went to the FBI,” Jones said. “I was an analyst at the FBI, did mostly al-Qaida issues for four years before jumping over to the Senate Intelligence Committee, under Jay Rockefeller’s leadership initially.”

Jones then worked for the panel under Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein.

Director and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns had the responsibility of turning the report, produced by Jones and the other staff under the direction of the California Democrat, into a script while telling the story of a congressional staffer with a top-secret clearance who spent his days toiling in secure rooms on Capitol Hill and in Northern Virginia.

“The real story in my mind is the story of someone in the middle of the system, and the people we don’t ever see, but the people who really are doing a lot of the heavy lifting,” Burns said. “And watching that person go to work every day for seven years with such rigor and such integrity that it made the system stand up and do what it’s supposed to.”

Burns took some necessary liberties in screenwriting, trying to distill years’ worth of events into a two-hour motion picture that is in theaters now and will become available on Amazon Prime on Nov. 29.

“Obviously, when you’re dealing with seven years of a person’s life, there’s some compression, and so the character of Dan Jones is a creation of myself and of Adam,” Burns said, adding that as much of the language about the report as possible was drawn directly from the congressional documents.

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