Before President Trump abruptly fired FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday, endorsing an independent investigation of Russia’s ties to Trump’s presidential campaign would have been smart politics for the White House — a way to steal the issue from Democrats and show he is not a creature of Washington. Now it is imperative.
Republican senators — including Ben Sasse, Richard Burr and John McCain, among others — have expressed concern over the timing and stated reasons for the firing. Conservative Representative Justin Amash is drafting legislation calling for a special commission to take over the Russian investigation, calling the President’s letter “bizarre.” Director Comey himself was out of town, learning of his firing by TV, during a meeting with FBI agents in California.
All of this followed a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Monday with former acting US Attorney General Sally Yates that played out like a spy novel, complete with foreign agents, classified reports, and compromised American generals. Then, to cap it off, CNN broke the news that grand jury subpoenas were issued in recent weeks to associates of Gen. Flynn, signaling a significant expansion of the FBI’s Russian probe.
While it may seem unlikely to happen, today’s developments make it clear that the President must embrace an independent investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and potential ties between some of his campaign advisors and Russia.
Four congressional committees and the U.S. Department of Justice are investigating ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. For as long as these probes — initiated and run by Republicans — last, Democrats will continue to use them to question the integrity, legitimacy and patriotism of the president, his administration, and the entire Republican Party.
President Trump has a quickly fading opportunity to turn the Russian investigation to his political advantage while at the same time doing the right thing for our country. The President needs to call for an independent commission and publicly announce his full support for and cooperation with the investigative entity. He then needs to follow up with evidence that the White House is doing what it can to accommodate and assist the investigation. Only by so doing can he win back the issue from the Democrats and restore some faith in the administration and the U.S. government in general.
President Trump campaigned on a promise to “drain the swamp,” and Americans responded. They want good government to replace the partisanship, self-dealing, and corruption that has come to define Washington D.C. They want to know that their elected officials put the good of the country over their party and over themselves.
That longing for an independent president who would be accountable only to the people brought voters to Trump, a political novice, when given the choice between him and the blatantly corrupt, dishonest, self-dealing Hillary Clinton. I spoke directly with hundreds of Trump voters in 2016, and over and over again, I heard a longing for someone who was not compromised by having spent decades in Washington.
In Trump, many voters believed they had at last found someone independent, someone with no corrupting alliances, someone who would be loyal to them, not to big donors or party leaders or other corrupting, outside influences.
Now, with five separate investigations of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign, and with the firing of Sally Yates and James Comey, two top law enforcement officials in positions to hold him accountable, President Trump is at risk of losing his greatest political asset — the perception among his supporters that, whatever his weaknesses, he is his own man, uncorrupted by outside influence.
The Democrats have been attacking him on the Russia connection since before the election. Last October, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid accused Trump himself of coordinating with the Russian government, though intelligence officials said they had no evidence of such coordination. Polls show that these attacks have resonated. Most Americans now believe Russia meddled in the election, and they want a clean investigation untainted by partisan politics.
Trump should publicly embrace this. It would be both good politics and good governing.
Trump should announce forcefully that foreign interference in American politics is a threat to our democracy and intolerable. He should declare that in order to ensure that it is investigated fully and fairly he has agreed to an independent investigation and has instructed everyone involved with his campaign to offer their complete cooperation.
For a country so deeply divided, this would be a strong and unifying move.
It also would be great politics. With this one move, Trump would nearly neutralize the issue. He would turn a political advantage for the Democrats into his own personal victory. That would create enormous political capital, which he could then spend to deliver on his campaign promises, putting him in a better position to help Republicans in 2018 and lay the groundwork for his 2020 re-election campaign.
Failing to do this will allow the issue to drag on for months, if not years. It will give Democrats talking points with which to hammer all Republicans into the mid-terms and beyond.
According to Pew research, almost three-fourths of Americans don’t trust elected officials. With his own campaign under investigation, Trump has a rare opportunity to begin restoring that trust. By calling for an independent investigation and pledging his administration’s full cooperation, he can show the American people that they have a leader loyal to the country and accountable to the voters, not loyal to his friends and accountable to no one.,
And it just happens to also be the right thing to do.
Jennifer Horn was Chairman of the NH Republican Party 2013-2017 and served on the RNC Executive Committee. She was the first Republican woman nominated to federal office in NH when she won the nominaton for NH-CD2 in 2008. She has been a columnist for the Nashua Telegraph and an award-winnng talk radio host.