The need for an independent commission to investigate Russian interference in the U.S. election has become critical with the inexplicable actions of Rep. Devin Nunes, chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Few positions in Congress require a higher standard of judgment and discretion than the one Nunes holds. It is his committee that is actively investigating the Russians and possible connections to President Trump’s campaign.
Yet when Nunes was told that the intelligence community had incidentally gathered information on Trump and his transition team as part of its legally authorized monitoring of foreign nationals, he went straight to Trump, bypassing members of his own committee. He didn’t even check in with FBI Director James Comey, who is directing an active investigation that Nunes may have compromised. Nunes has since apologized and described his actions as a “judgment call.” One wonders how much that judgment was affected by the fact that Nunes himself was part of the Trump transition team.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has said rightly that partisan bickering on House Intelligence has cast a cloud over the congressional investigation on Russia. “No longer does the Congress have credibility to handle this alone, and I don’t say that lightly,” McCain said.
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar has been calling for an independent, 9/11-type commission since January. The need for a far-ranging commission of experts to determine what happened, who was responsible and what needs to be fixed should be apparent to all by now. “We need a commission insulated from all this political back and forth,” Klobuchar told an editorial writer. “This must not be about one campaign or one election. This is about the future of our elections in America. Russia has been playing this game for decades. Other countries know that. Our people were caught unawares and this will not be the last time unless we take action.”
The circle tightens almost daily, and the White House obfuscation mounts. The Associated Press has reported that some years ago Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, secretly worked for a Russian billionaire on ways to influence politics, business and news coverage within the U.S. that would benefit the Russian government. Confronted with the reports, the White House said Manafort had only a “very limited role” in the campaign. Carter Page, a former foreign policy adviser for Trump, is among those whose Russian contacts are under FBI investigation. The White House now describes him as a “hanger-on.” The list of connections by now is long.
McCain has called for a select committee, which would be made up of congressional members, or an independent commission. The latter is the preferred course to ensure that Americans have confidence in the integrity of the findings. Minnesotans should urge their representatives in Congress to call for its immediate appointment.