Mr. President: Cooperation with Russian investigation is your best play
© Greg Nash

The ongoing investigation into Russia’s possible interference with the presidential election has all the markings of turning into a full-blown scandal. The investigation is already filled with political intrigue but now former advisers of President Trump are not cooperating with the Senate Intelligence Committee’s requests for information. This stonewalling not only escalates interbranch conflict, but it affirms for many the impression that the president has something to hide. 

Certainly, withholding documents and testimony from Congress is nothing new. In recent years, Presidents George W. Bush and Obama had their own run-ins with Congress, which resulted in executive privilege claims and even contempt resolutions by Congress.

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More recently former Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page told the Senate Intelligence Committee that the Obama administration, not him, likely has the most relevant documents related to the investigation. The ranking Democrat on the committee, Sen. Mark WarnerMark WarnerTrump: Everyone agrees the president has 'complete power to pardon' Susan Rice met with Senate Intelligence Committee as part of Russia probe Dem senator: Pardoning targets of Russia probe would be 'crossing a fundamental line' MORE (Va.), said that it appears that only one person has so far complied with the committee’s request for information.

 

Republican Chairman Richard BurrRichard BurrDems slam Trump for 'stonewalling' oversight efforts Burr: Nunes 'created' unmasking allegations against Rice Susan Rice met with Senate Intelligence Committee as part of Russia probe MORE (N.C.) noted that “all options are on the table” if individuals do not comply with requests for information, including using the subpoena power. That is exactly what the committee did in issuing a subpoena for former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn to provide documents relevant to its investigation. However, Flynn has told the committee he will not comply, invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. 

Although the investigation is in its early stages, the reluctance and even initial refusals to cooperate do not point to a positive path forward. Clearly, the committee is in a strong position as the investigation is germane to its oversight responsibilities over federal elections. However, as has been the case in past interbranch disputes, just because Congress is in a strong position doesn’t mean the executive branch will cooperate. For example, a resolution in the case of the U.S. attorneys’ firings scandal under President George W. Bush did not occur until Obama’s first year as president. And it was over five years before the so-called Fast and Furious controversy during Obama’s administration was resolved.

A better course of action would be for Trump to speak publicly in support of the investigation and ask that his former advisers cooperate with the committee. We realize that Trump came into the presidency with an awful relationship with the media and a reputation for attacking all parts of the Washington, D.C., establishment, regardless of political party affiliation. His challenges working with the media and Washington "insiders" have not gone away and, in fact, have only gotten worse as his presidency has progressed, especially since he removed FBI Director James Comey from office. 

But, despite those issues, Trump’s positioning on this matter will do much to signal to Congress and the public his developing views on executive power and the manner in which he intends to work with lawmakers. More importantly, Trump would likely be in a stronger position with Congress and the public if he followed a more collaborative path that placed the national interest ahead of his short-term personal and political ambitions. As Chairman Burr has explained, “What we’re attempting to do in the Senate Intelligence Committee is not a charade. It’s a very serious investigation to look at Russian active measures that tried to shape in some way, shape or form in our elections.”

The president’s best play at this point is to encourage transparency and cooperation with investigations. It is the only way for him to begin to restore confidence in the electoral system and to ensure that the rule of law and constitutional government prevail. If, as he claims, he has done nothing wrong, such transparency and cooperation risk nothing.

Mitchel A. Sollenberger is associate provost and professor of political science at University of Michigan-Dearborn. Mark J. Rozell is dean of the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University and author of the book “Executive Privilege”. They are co-authors of the book “The President’s Czars: Undermining Congress and the Constitution.”


The views of contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.