It’s becoming clearer by the day that to get to the bottom of Russian interference in the presidential election, we need a bipartisan select committee in Congress, plus a special prosecutor.
The latter is unavoidable after the latest bombshell: Attorney General Jeff Sessions, while he was a U.S. senator and an adviser to Donald Trump’s campaign, met twice last year with the Russian ambassador to the United States.
Facing the uproar, Sessions announced Thursday he is recusing himself from any Russia investigation, even as he denied any political discussions during those meetings, or misleading senators at his confirmation hearing when he didn’t mention them.
Some Republicans, albeit not Trump, had said Sessions should step aside from the investigation. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield first seemed to call for recusal, then didn’t, apparently more interested in hanging onto the president’s trust than doing the right thing.
More than 100 Democrats, including Sen. Kamala Harris of California, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco and Rep. Salud Carbajal of Santa Barbara called for Sessions to resign, arguing that it’s unacceptable the nation’s chief law enforcement officer to lie under oath.
Trump said he didn’t know about the Sessions meetings, but still has “total confidence” in him. Of course, after Michael Flynn misled Vice President Mike Pence about his own conversations with Russian officials, a top aide said Trump had “full confidence” in Flynn; hours later, he resigned as national security adviser.
Whether Sessions stays or goes, he is entirely compromised on this issue. An independent prosecutor must oversee any potential criminal charges. To his credit, Rep. Darrell Issa of Vista broke with the GOP leadership and is calling for one. “We need a clear-eyed view of what the Russians actually did so that all Americans can have faith in our institutions,” he said Thursday.
To do that, we also need the select committee that can focus on Russia, with enough staff and resources to quickly finish an investigation that Americans can trust.
For weeks, Republicans in Congress have been slow-walking the probe and keeping it behind closed doors within the intelligence committees. That isn’t going to work, not least because House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes of Tulare keeps saying publicly that there’s no evidence of any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
That could be because the committee hasn’t actually tried to find evidence, as Rep. Adam Schiff of Burbank, the committee’s top Democrat, rightly points out.
Nunes seems more interested in investigating leaks about the White House, even though U.S. intelligence officials say that Russia tried to tip the election toward Trump.
Everyone should want a full and prompt investigation, Trump included. Unless, of course, he has something to hide.
Editor’s note: Editorials from other newspapers are offered to stimulate debate and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Tribune.