We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: there MUST be an investigation by an independent, bipartisan commission of Russia’s ties to Donald Trump and his associates and that nation’s interference in our elections. Emphasize independent and bipartisan. That commission must have full subpoena power to call witnesses and make them testify under oath or risk prosecution. Hearings must be held out in the open, and televised live for the nation and the world to see. That’s what a democracy is all about.
The resignation of National Security Advisor Michael Flynn makes such an inquiry even more imperative. On Friday, winging his way to Mar-a-Lago on Air Force One, Trump told the press he knew nothing about the previous night’s Washington Post report that Flynn had secretly discussed lifting sanctions against Russia with Russia’s ambassador to the United States. But on Tuesday, Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters that Trump had known about Flynn’s phone calls—and his lies about it—weeks ago.
Why was nothing done until the media broke the story? And why did Trump lie? As the National Lampoon joked back during the Watergate era, rephrasing the crucial questions aimed at Richard Nixon: “What did the president know and when did he STOP knowing it?”
Is it possible Trump’s staff didn’t tell him? After all, much of their spin has been about Flynn misleading Vice President Pence and other staff members, not the president. Did White House general counsel Don McGahn, who was alerted to Flynn’s lies by Acting Attorney General Sally Yates and a senior national security official, say nothing?
Much more probable, Trump and Flynn may have been talking all along and keeping it to themselves. Who authorized Flynn to speak with the Russian ambassador on Trump’s behalf in the first place? The president himself or chief strategist Steve Bannon? Or someone else? Was Flynn a lone gun? Who can tell with all the lies?
And another thing: if the White House has known what was going on for weeks, why was Flynn still attending intelligence briefings as late as Monday? That’s what White House resident spin doctor Kellyanne Conway told the Today’s show Matt Lauer on Tuesday. Otherwise, Conway—who shortly before his resignation told the press that Flynn still had Trump’s confidence—was her usual duplicitous self. Why the media keep turning to her for answers no one can trust is yet another indignity inflicted on the American public in this unfolding saga.
And where are the Republican patriots willing to come forward and place country and democracy over party and a venal lust for power? Other than John McCain, they’ve been mum or simply said ta-ta and thanked Flynn for his service. Late Tuesday, Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said it’s “highly likely” the Senate intelligence committee will investigate Flynn’s discussions with the Russian ambassador, but does anyone really think a Republican-dominated inquiry, with strings pulled back stage by McConnell, will dig for the truth and let the facts fall where they will?
Jason Chaffetz, chair of the House Oversight Committee, says he won’t investigate the Flynn affair—“I think that situation has taken care of itself.” How about that for respecting the public’s need to know? And Rep. Chris Collins of upstate New York, the man with the dubious distinction of being the first member of Congress to endorse Trump’s candidacy, told CNN’s Chris Cuomo on Tuesday morning, “I think it’s just time to move on.” When asked why so many of his GOP colleagues were silent he suggested, “Well, [it’s] Valentine’s Day, and I guess they’re having breakfasts with their wives.”
Takes your breath away, doesn’t it?
There is nothing as dangerous to democracy—with its need for checks and balances of power to protect the integrity of our system—as one-party rule. Unless there are responsible Republicans who will break ranks and join the Democrats in calling for an independent and bipartisan joint commission to investigate these astonishing developments in a fair and impartial way—with televised hearings—one of the greatest, perhaps the greatest, assaults on democracy in our 240-year history will go unpunished except for a few culprits like Flynn.
Americans must know whether the candidate of one party worked with a foreign power to influence the election against his opponent.
We repeat: This noxious scandal requires an open, independent, bipartisan investigation with public hearings. Now. No patriot can settle for anything less.
Bill Moyers is the managing editor of Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com.
Michael Winship is the Emmy Award-winning senior writer of Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MichaelWinship.