"The acknowledgment by James Comey, the F.B.I. director, on Monday that the bureau is investigating possible connections between President Trump’s campaign and Russia’s efforts to sabotage Hillary Clinton’s chances is a breathtaking admission. While there has been a growing body of circumstantial evidence of such links, Mr. Comey’s public confirmation ought to mark a turning point in how inquiries into Russia’s role in the election should be handled.
The top priority now must be to ensure that the F.B.I.’s investigation, which could result in criminal prosecutions, is shielded from meddling by the Trump administration, which has shown a proclivity to lie, mislead and obfuscate with startling audacity. Testifying before the House Intelligence Committee, Mr. Comey said the bureau is conducting its investigation in an “open-minded, independent way” and vowed to “follow the facts wherever they lead.”
There is no reason to doubt Mr. Comey’s commitment. But it is far from certain that senior officials at the Department of Justice, who normally decide whether there is enough evidence to file criminal charges in politically sensitive cases, will be able to avoid White House interference. Before Monday’s hearing began, Mr. Trump issued a remarkable set of tweets calling the possibility of collusion with Russia “fake news” and urging Congress and the F.B.I. to drop the matter and instead focus on finding who had been leaking information to the press.
These brazen warning shots from the president do enormous damage to public confidence in the F.B.I.’s investigation. The credibility of the Justice Department in handling the Russian matter was already deeply compromised after Attorney General Jeff Sessions arrived in the job refusing to recuse himself from any investigation. He was forced to step aside only after it was revealed that, contrary to what he told senators under oath, he had met with the Russian ambassador to Washington twice during the campaign. Even with his recusal, it would still be his deputies and staff directing and managing any potential prosecution — which raises serious questions of conflict.
Mitigating this credibility crisis requires appointing an independent prosecutor, who would not take orders from the administration. If Mr. Trump’s assertion that there was no collusion between his campaign officials and the Russian government is true, he should want this matter to be fully investigated as quickly and as transparently as possible.
Appointing a special prosecutor would show that Mr. Sessions is willing to have an impartial examination of his actions as a surrogate for Mr. Trump last year — which he has assured the public were entirely appropriate.
The decision to bring in a special counsel may fall on Rod Rosenstein, a career federal prosecutor who has been nominated to be deputy attorney general. Lawmakers from both parties should strongly encourage him to make that sensible and necessary decision.
As the F.B.I. investigation continues, a series of overlapping congressional inquiries into Russian activities to influence the election are advancing in a predictably muddled, partisan way. Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee are working to produce a detailed timeline showing all the reported contacts between people close to the Trump campaign and the Russian government during the campaign. Most Republicans want to keep the focus on leaks of classified information.
This matter requires a broader investigation run by a collaborative, bipartisan team of statesmen. The ideal format would be a select committee that has subpoena power and a mandate to issue a comprehensive report of its findings. The goal must be to make American political parties and democratic institutions less vulnerable to efforts to distort the electoral process as the Russians appear to have carried out. Failing to learn and heed the lessons of last year’s campaign would be an abdication of a shared responsibility to safeguard American democracy."
Comey’s Haunting News on Trump and Russia - The New York Times