Investigate Trump's Russia Ties

Look into it.

Photographer: Mandel Ngan/AFP

To recap a few anarchic days in Donald Trump's Washington: At least six agencies are investigating Trump's ties to Russia. The president is deriding the spies. The spies are keeping secrets from the president. The White House is mulling a purge. Everyone is leaking to the news media. And no one has any answers.

If there's one certainty in this increasingly troubling episode, it's that Congress must get to the bottom of it. The question now is how to do so in a way that instills confidence in the public and sheds some light on an alarming chain of events.

American spy agencies have concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 election and likely sought to aid Trump. According to news reports, there is also evidence that the president's associates were repeatedly in contact with Russian intelligence during the campaign. This week, Trump's national security adviser resigned after making misleading statements about a conversation he had with Russia's ambassador about sanctions.

Yet more worrying, much of the public evidence about all this has come from anonymous leaks, hence the escalating spat between the president and the intelligence agencies. The way to reduce that tension, and to assure the public that the government is in steady hands, is for Congress to exercise its oversight of the executive branch and conduct a far more thorough probe.

Although the House and Senate intelligence committees are looking into Russia's involvement in the election, potential pitfalls abound: The committees deliberate behind closed doors, evaluate classified evidence, and may never make their full results public. Given such secrecy, the prospect of political influence can't be ruled out, despite pledges to "go where the intelligence leads."

That's why a more open approach is called for. One option, as Senator Lindsey Graham has proposed, would be a select committee made up of the top members of other congressional committees relevant to the investigation. Given the scope of the issues involved -- including espionage, national security, cybersecurity, foreign relations, economic sanctions and more -- that approach makes some sense.

Another option would be an independent commission. Although it would require legislation, such a panel would ensure a public and transparent probe, and it would be empowered to investigate failures and shortcomings across the government, including within Congress itself. The commission that investigated the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks was an exemplar of open bipartisan inquiry and could serve as a model.

For any such probe, the most crucial attribute is independence. An investigation of this gravity can't succumb to political interference or partisanship. And it can't be conducted in secret. It requires that Congress simply follow the facts, then tell the public what it finds.

To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View’s editorials: David Shipley at davidshipley@bloomberg.net.