Last July, Americans witnessed something entirely unprecedented in presidential politics: a national candidate calling on Russian intelligence officials to hack an opposing candidate. In the following seven months, we realize this may not have been idle campaign fodder since knowledge of now-President Donald Trump’s ties to Russia has continued to spread.
No part of this discussion is to question the legitimacy of Donald Trump’s election as president. But being president does not make him impervious to questioning and transparency.
Michael Flynn is the third adviser, after Paul Manafort and Carter Page, to resign from Trump’s inner circle due to improper or potentially illegal interactions with Russia.
It is becoming more apparent that Flynn, who has been a right-hand man to Trump since the campaign and was the administration’s top national security official, undermined our country’s response to an attack from a hostile country. He misrepresented conversations with the Russian ambassador to Vice President Mike Pence and is currently being investigated by the Army for allegedly receiving improper payments from the Russian government.
Importantly, recent reports indicated that the repeated contact with Russian operatives weren’t limited to Flynn but to other Trump associates as well, which raises concern for conflicts of interest.
One thing is clear to Democrats, Republicans, and Independents alike: Within the web of untruths and questions surrounding the role of several key Trump advisers, we need an independent investigation into what happened and who was involved.
Russia is and has been antagonistic to the United States. Just this week, a Russian spy vessel was spotted off the Atlantic Coast, and missiles were tested in violation of an international arms control treaty.
Confidence in our democracy, both at home and abroad, now hinges on an unprecedented intimacy between Trump and Vladimir Putin.
It’s essential that the American public know who, how, and to what extent our country’s credibility, security, and frankly, our democracy has been compromised.
It will not suffice to authorize congressional inquiries, even by the Permanent Select Committees on Intelligence. It is common knowledge that the Intelligence Committee is where investigations languish. Most information remains unavailable to the public. When information does become available, it is often highly redacted. And disclosure of the redactions must be approved by the administration — a circle of concealment from the public.
For an investigation into these matters truly to be conducted thoroughly, objectively, and with insulation from undue political pressures, it must be done by a neutral, nonpartisan, and external commission.
Congress, however, is abdicating our constitutional responsibility to hold the executive branch accountable to the American people. Many Republicans in Congress — highly sensitive to political concerns and fallout — would like to leave the investigation in the hands of the Intelligence or Oversight Committees, but the chairmen of those committees have indicated they do not see the need to investigate. Moreover, their recent comments disqualify them from this important responsibility.
Mere hours before Flynn resigned, Republican Rep. Devin Nunes of California, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said: “It just seems like there’s a lot of nothing there.” At a minimum, this statement is incredibly tone deaf to the gravity of these allegations. More problematic is that it indicates Nunes, who sits on Trump’s transition team, has come to a conclusion without any investigation whatsoever into the matter.
The chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, similarly dismissed an investigation: “It’s taking care of itself.”
Meanwhile, Attorney General Jeff Sessions — a leading Trump campaign adviser — has stated he will not recuse himself from any investigation into Russian ties.
Lest we forget, the chairmen, and indeed Trump himself, have telegraphed that they will focus any investigation on the leaks of the allegations rather than on the allegations themselves. Use of such an overt red herring only serves to deepen the suspicion that much more lies beneath the surface.
These allegations are serious and deeply undermine our national security. These committees and the Justice Department can no longer ensure that their investigation into the matter will deliver the transparency or the accountability this situation demands.
As a former prosecutor, I have had to make the decision of when to employ a special prosecutor and when I should recuse myself. It is not a light decision, but one that should be made specifically in the interest of the public and justice.
The American people deserve an independent, trustworthy investigation into how their president, our nation’s top security officer, and others have put their security at risk.
Representative Bill Keating is the ranking member of the Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade Subcommittee of the Foreign Affairs Committee as well as a senior member of the Homeland Security Committee.