After 9/11 politicians put their country above their parties. We must do so again
It’s time for an independent commission to investigate Russia’s attack on our democracy.
Sadly, the two branches of government with jurisdiction to get to the bottom of what happened have betrayed their solemn duty of exercising independence. The window to act – to find out what happened and whether any Americans were complicit, and to implement reforms to avoid another attack – is closing fast.
The dots continue to connect Donald Trump and his team’s personal, political and financial ties to Russia’s interference campaign. True to form, every new tie is followed by a Trump team lie.
Michael Flynn misled the vice-president about discussing sanctions with Russia’s ambassador. Jeff Sessions twice met the same ambassador during the campaign and said under oath during his confirmation hearing that it had never happened. And worst of all, Donald Trump and his White House lied that Barack Obama had wiretapped his campaign and enlisted our British allies’ support to supplement his surveillance.
Russia attacked us in this past election, and nearly everyone – except the president – believes the evidence supporting Russia’s culpability. The most alarming finding of the intelligence report on the attack isn’t about the past: it’s about Russia’s intent to sharpen its knives and attack us again. Americans are counting on their leaders to protect our democracy, hold any American involved accountable, and make changes to ensure we can’t be attacked this way in the future.
Unfortunately, leaders on whom we counted to protect us have put their loyalty to Trump – whose campaign is under criminal and counterintelligence investigations – over their duty to their country. After lying to the Senate, Sessions has had to recuse himself from all criminal investigations involving Russia’s ties to the 2016 election campaign.
And now Congress’s intelligence committee investigations have been compromised as well. In the Senate, chairman Richard Burr has sometimes appeared to be working as a part-time committee leader and part-time publicist for the White House, batting away reported Trump-Russia connections at the behest of the White House. In the House, our chairman and Trump transition team member Devin Nunes seems to be running his own intelligence service, receiving classified information regarding our investigation and exclusively briefing it to the president. And now he has cancelled Tuesday’s open hearing – where witnesses had already submitted testimony to the committee – proposing instead to have future hearings conducted in secret.
Nearly every Republican leader we have counted on to demonstrate impartiality has failed. The FBI’s important work will continue, but its honest progress is threatened by an executive branch severely penetrated by Russian influence. The House’s investigation is on life support, as the chairman refuses to share with his own committee members the intelligence he is briefing to the president.
And time is running out.
We are not helpless to defend our country from another electronic attack. Representative Elijah Cummings and I have authored the Protecting Our Democracy Act. It calls for the creation of an independent, bipartisan-appointed commission on Russia’s interference in the past presidential election. It’s needed to depoliticize the critical task of reporting to the public what happened, to declassify as many of the facts as possible behind the attack, and to debunk the myths perpetuated by the president and his team about Russia and its involvement. Every Democrat supports it, but so far, only one Republican – Representative Walter Jones, who has a history of putting country over party, as the first GOP congressman to speak out against the Iraq war.
We have been attacked before, and we answered the call to do all we could to make sure it wouldn’t happen again. I saw this as a 20-year-old intern on Capitol Hill when we were hit on September 11. I’ll never forget watching Democrats and Republicans stand on the Capitol steps singing God Bless America.
But what they did next was more important than their symbolism of unity. They worked together. Congressional and independent investigations were completed. Improvements to our national security were made. And we are safer because of it.
As divided as our leaders are over what to do next about Russia and our president, we still have a unique opportunity to collaborate on behalf of the constituents we represent. If we do nothing, the next election will be open season – not only for Russia, but for every country with similar capabilities.
By acting, we can show ourselves and the world that our elections belong to us. An independent commission is now not only the most comprehensive way to find out what happened and ensure it never happens again, but it’s an insurance policy against compromised executive and legislative branches.