By Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.)
The endurance of our nation’s security, sovereignty, and democracy is not a partisan issue. This is a top concern for all Americans and should be a top priority for the leaders that we send to Washington, whether Democrat or Republican. As elected officials, my colleagues and I swore to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. We, therefore, have a responsibility to do our due diligence in investigating Russian interference, and potential influence, into our democratic elections and the potential Russian ongoing connections within this current presidential administration.
Despite all of the evidence gathered thus far – evidence that has led all 17 of the U.S. intelligence agencies to conclude with confidence that the Russians had indeed interfered in the past election – the current administration seems unable or unwilling to put its full weight behind a full and proper investigation that seems necessary to the American people. In the face of evidence that campaign and administration officials seem to have had relationships with Russian officials, the president cannot simply move on from this issue. In fact, the resignation of National Security Advisor Michael Flynn this month seems to provide us with more questions than answers.
The potential conflicts between the Trump Administration and its apparent ties to Russia seem numerous. The president has refused to release his tax returns – a move not seen from any other modern major party candidate – leaving questions unanswered as to potential Russian business ties and conflicts of interest that President Trump was all too happy to gloat about in years past. The president is unable to criticize Russia and its dictator-like leader Vladimir Putin, but, instead, praises him and prefers him to President Obama. When confronted with the assertion that Putin has had journalists and political opponents killed, President Trump doubled down on his support of Putin by shockingly asserting a moral equivalence between Russia and the United States.
The president’s ties to Russia don’t end with him, however, they trickle down into his administration. As in the campaign, President Trump continues to surround himself with advisers that have expansive and well-documented financial entanglements to Russia. Recently, “The New York Times” reported that phone records show Trump associates communicated with senior Russian intelligence officials throughout the campaign, including his former campaign chair Paul Manafort, who is known to have involvements in multimillion-dollar business deals with Putin allies in Ukraine. Additionally, Michael Flynn was forced to resign following information revealing that he had lied about privately discussing U.S sanctions against Russia with the Russian ambassador to the United States before Trump took office, a potentially illegal act. It has since been reported that White House officials were made aware of Flynn’s actions and made no effort to correct the record. It was only after leaks to the public that President Trump’s hand was forced, raising concerns regarding the ability of this White House to maintain honest and open communication with the American people.
This intricate web leaves us with critical questions that must be answered. What did the President know and when? Was the White House ignoring or covering up the truth and spreading misinformation? Did Flynn operate at the direction or the knowledge of the President and were others involved? The American people deserve to know the full extent of Russia’s financial, personal and political strings attached to President Trump and this administration.
Now more than ever, we need an independent, bipartisan commission to fully investigate Russia’s interference in the election and any potential Trump campaign ties to the Kremlin. Unfortunately, Republican leaders in the House seem less than enthusiastic about investigating their own President. In turn, last month, Representatives Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) reintroduced legislation that would create a 12-member, bipartisan, independent commission empowered to conduct an in-depth investigation into attempts by the Russian government or others to use electronic means to influence, interfere with, or undermine trust in last year’s elections. This would be similar to the highly-praised 9/11 Commission – which was led by well-regarded national security experts that were not elected officials. Such a commission is not only necessary in order to ensure our security, but to restore trust in this administration and in the democratic process. All Democratic members of the House of Representatives, along with one Republican, have co-sponsored this critical bipartisan legislation.
The American people deserve transparency and peace of mind when it comes to their elected leadership. The Trump Administration has insisted on remaining friendly with Russia despite the very clear threat that they have presented to our national security. In doing so, they have put our nation at risk while keeping American citizens in the dark. The Trump Administration’s intent to ignore these ongoing acts of aggression sends a message that this type of meddling is acceptable. The only democratic way forward is to launch a complete investigation into not only the interference into our democratic election, but also into the ties and communication that this administration has had with Russia.
U.S. Congressman Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.) represents Mississippi’s 2nd Congressional District and is the ranking member on the House Committee on Homeland Security. He is also a member of the Congressional Black Caucus.