Trump Jr. Russia emails are last straw: We need a bipartisan, independent investigation
New evidence about the Trump campaign's contacts with Russian officials last year makes it absolutely crucial that we have an independent, bipartisan commission to protect our democracy.
There is no doubt that Donald Trump Jr., then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner, son-in-law and close adviser to the president, met in June 2016 with a Russian government emissary whom they believed would offer them damaging information about Hillary Clinton. And there's no doubt that Trump Jr. knew who would be at the meeting and why.
This is not "fake news," or "a hoax," or "a witch hunt," as President Trump has claimed of this investigation. His own son's emails prove this.
It's as clear as day that Russians sought to work with the Trump campaign to influence the outcome of our last election. What's not clear, sadly, is how our country moves forward to hold anyone who worked with Russia accountable and most importantly, to ensure this never happens again.
In the short term, Kushner's security clearance should be revoked. And Congress must not allow this administration to soften any sanctions against Russia.
But in the longer term, America deserves a full explanation that it can trust, and policy prescriptions that it can accept as being in our nation's best interests.
Donald Trump Jr. was within his rights to meet with Russian lawyer
In recent months, I have walked a line between my roles as ranking member of the House Intelligence CIA Subcommittee — in which I'm integrally involved in the committee's investigation — and as co-author of H.R. 356, the Protecting Our Democracy Act, to create an independent commission, with experts named by both parties, to undertake a similar but not redundant investigation.
I have tried to respond accurately — as much as the classified nature of some information allows — to inquiries about the committee's investigation. At the same time, I've had private conversations with dozens of my Republican colleagues about supporting H.R. 356. For now, the bill has only two Republican co-sponsors: Walter Jones and Justin Amash.
But we no longer have the luxury of time, or of indulging those who would deny the danger facing us.
To my Republican colleagues who believe this investigation has become too partisan: Work with me now to make that stop. Help me take an investigation of this magnitude where it belongs: outside of Congress, and into the hands of independent experts in national security, foreign policy and election law.
Let's put aside the criminal question as to whether the president or anyone on his team worked with Russia to execute this attack. That's for Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation to determine.
But whether there's a mountain of evidence for collusion or no evidence at all, can't we agree that Russia interfered in our election and plans to do it again? Even if we agree on this and only this, don't we have a responsibility to our constituents to secure the next election not only from an influence campaign but also, God forbid, the possibility of vote tally tampering?
I don't enjoy what this investigation has done to an already-hyper-partisan Congress. I've seen friendships and working relationships, my own and those of others, frayed and tested to the breaking point. I've seen bipartisan staff partnerships strained as dutiful public servants dig in to defend their bosses.
I get it. Sometimes this feels like a zero-sum game for both sides. Republicans believe that for Democrats, victory is nothing short of removing Trump from the Oval Office; Democrats believe that Republicans are willing to defend him at all costs, regardless of the evidence, regardless of the cost to our nation.
But this can't be about one person or party. It has to be about the people at home who are counting on us to do what's right. For most people I talk to, doing what's right means telling them who if anyone worked with Russia to compromise our election and then making sure our country never finds itself in this kind of situation again.
Make no mistake, it will happen again if we don't act. The cost of doing nothing is grave, and signals to would-be meddlers that it's open season on our elections. At our Intelligence Committee hearing, I asked former secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson if other nations or even cyber-criminals could pull off a similar attack. He minced no words: "Yes," he replied.
It's not too late to protect our democracy, and we need not look too far in the past for successful models. The 9/11 Commission was created a full year after we were attacked from the skies, and after close study of our vulnerabilities, it made good recommendations to keep us safer, many of which are now law. Our nation is better protected from terrorism because of it.
Let's come out of our corners while there's still time. Let's put aside our political differences and put country ahead of party. The integrity of our democratic elections is at stake, and we must rise united to protect it.