The appointment of a special counsel is much-needed good news about the investigation of Russia’s interference in our election, but as it arrived on Wednesday night Americans got another reminder of the work still needed before we can be confident that the truth ultimately will emerge.
Retired FBI Director Robert Mueller brings a spotless reputation for probity to the investigation. Lawyers who reviewed the mandate he received from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said it will let Mueller pursue all leads without having to worry about interference from higher-ups in the Justice Department.
Some congressional Republicans greeted Mueller’s appointment as a signal that other Russia-Trump investigations can now be dialed back. And after the White House issued a measured statement on Wednesday night saying the president is confident Mueller’s probe will exonerate him, Trump lashed out early Thursday with tweets branding the investigation “the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!”
Meanwhile, a report in this morning’s Washington Post provided jarring evidence of the continuing need for an independent commission to do its own investigation and report on what Russia did to disrupt the election, any collusion between that effort and the Trump campaign, and what can be done to protect future elections.
The Post reported that during a private meeting last June of senior Republican congressional leaders, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy suggested that Trump, then running for the GOP presidential nomination, was receiving payments from Russian President Vladimir Putin.
When some of his colleagues laughed at McCarthy’s remark, the majority leader blurted out “Swear to God.” Then Ryan jumped in to cut off the discussion and admonished all present to keep it private. “No leaks… This is how we know we’re a real family here,” the speaker said.
The exchange remained secret until Wednesday. When a Post reporter asked spokesmen for Ryan and McCarthy for comment on the remarks, they first denied that the conversation ever occurred. Told the newspaper had a transcript, they said it must have been fabricated. Only when confronted with a tape recording did they acknowledge that McCarthy had made the remarks, which they then insisted were in jest.
The Post report almost certainly shatters whatever credibility McCarthy and Ryan might have enjoyed in the Capitol. More importantly, it is a fresh demonstration of the reality that while congressional investigations may produce important new information, Congress can’t be relied on to fully and fairly investigate anything as politically charged as Russia’s interference in the election and Trump’s possible connection to it.
Only an independent commission, strictly bipartisan and drawn from the ranks of distinguished academic, legal, business and retired military leaders, can produce findings that will inspire public confidence. Pressure from Americans at every point along the political spectrum, helped deliver the appointment of a special counsel. We must continue and intensify it to ensure that an independent commission is created, fully staffed, and put to work.
Office: Common Cause National