The Trump administration has enlisted senior members of the intelligence community and Congress in efforts to counter news stories about Trump associates' ties to Russia, a politically charged issue that has been under investigation by the FBI as well as lawmakers now defending the White House.Acting at the behest of the White House, the officials made calls to news organizations last week in attempts to challenge stories about alleged contacts between members of President Trump's campaign team and Russian intelligence operatives, U.S. officials said.
Of particular interest, the White House's public-relations campaign included Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), both of whom confirmed that they spoke to journalists about the Russia scandal at the White House's request.And that's extraordinary. While Burr and Nunes were supposed to be overseeing investigations into the Russia scandal, they were also cooperating with the White House, telling reporters not to take the Russia scandal seriously.In other words, the investigators were undermining their own investigation -- at the behest of those being investigated.There's no shortage of questions about the developments, but there's an obvious one near the top of the list: what happens now?There was a push several weeks ago for a special, independent commission to uncover the facts, but Republican leaders refused, insisting the matter belonged in the hands of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. Now, however, we know that those committees' chairmen volunteered to serve as part of Team Trump's public-relations operation, destroying any credible claims to independence they have on the matter.Indeed, even after these developments came to light, Devin Nunes, a Trump cheerleader and member of the president's executive transition committee, continued to carry water
for the White House.The need for an independent probe now seems unavoidable, as even some Republicans are starting to acknowledge. Politico reported
over the weekend:
A Republican congressman who aligned with President Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign called Friday for a special prosecutor to oversee the investigation into Trump associates' contacts with Russia.Rep. Darrell Issa said on HBO's "Real Time" that Attorney General Jeff Sessions -- who Trump appointed as the nation's top law enforcement officer -- should not handle the problem."You cannot have somebody, a friend of mine Jeff Sessions, who was on the campaign and who is an appointee," the California Republican said in response to a question from host Bill Maher. "You're going to need to use the special prosecutor's statute and office to take -- not just to recuse. You can't just give it to your deputy. That's another political appointee."
The total of congressional Republicans who support a special investigative committee is, at this point, quite small. The club includes Sen. Lindsey Graham
(R-S.C.), Sen. John McCain
(R-Ariz.), Rep. Walter Jones
(R-N.C.), and now Darrell Issa. Sen. Bob Corker
(R-Tenn.) didn't fully endorse the idea, but he "left the door open to supporting an independent commission" following Michael Flynn's resignation two weeks ago.Meanwhile, nearly every relevant congressional Democrat has insisted that a separate investigation is entirely necessary under the circumstances. By their actions, Republicans have made the Democrats' case far stronger.