Why a Russia probe may make the left squirm, too, not just the right
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Most Americans appropriately believe the allegations about Russia's election machinations need to be investigated. It is impossible to know what an inquiry might unearth, but liberals in particular are gleefully anticipating that any such probe will destabilize the Trump presidency.

They may prove correct, but they also may find themselves squirming as much as those on the right.

Why? In the first place, any truly credible investigation will have to delve into Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonIntel Dem decries White House 'gag order' after Bannon testimony 'Total free-for-all' as Bannon clashes with Intel members Mellman: On Political Authenticity (Part 2) MORE's contacts with foreign leaders during the campaign. She admitted to CNN's Jake Tapper that she had been contacted by foreign leaders who wanted to help "stop Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpDems flip Wisconsin state Senate seat Sessions: 'We should be like Canada' in how we take in immigrants GOP rep: 'Sheet metal and garbage' everywhere in Haiti MORE," but then refused to disclose who they were.

We need to find out their identities and what else they might have done to try to influence our election.

Even accepting that Clinton declined that specific offer, if leaders of foreign governments were so intent upon trying to influence the election outcome as to privately contact their favored candidate in the midst of a hotly contested campaign, only the grossest kind of naivete would think their efforts ended there.

Next, the investigation needs to carefully examine the legal basis for eavesdropping on Michael Flynn, as well as who leaked the transcript, and how. Again, many are delighted to see Flynn's downfall, but can liberals really reconcile themselves to the full implications of it?

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Here you have an American citizen who apparently committed no crime, yet whose personal phone call was secretly recorded, and a transcript of the conversation leaked by, it seems, government intelligence operatives. All of which resulted in the destruction of his professional life.

 

Whatever our politics, shouldn't this make us all uncomfortable?

Even if the controversial surveillance was legal under Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, it is a stark reminder of the true power of government. For all the rhetoric about the protections for American citizens embedded in the special surveillance authorities accorded the intelligence community, at the end of the day, law-abiding Americans can find themselves being scrutinized by their government employing a legal architecture that was actually supposed to be about investigating foreign powers.

This is important because, among other things, Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Amendments Act is up for renewal this year. This provision of law makes it relatively easy to amass the content of communications of targeted non-U.S .persons located overseas, but can incidentally collect information about innocent Americans.

How can Americans — be they liberals, right-wingers or centrists — be assured that the intelligence community or others won't decide to "incidentally" collect personal information about them, and then leak it to the public?

In addition, the investigation ought to examine America's own policies regarding influencing foreign elections. For example, President Obama publically tried to influence the U.K.'s Brexit vote. More importantly, however, when Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence was asked last summer about whether the U.S. would ever try to surruptioiusly influence a foreign election, his answer was evasive to the point where he finally retreated to simply saying he could not "go into any kind of a covert action question."

But the questions remain: Did the Obama or other administrations ever attempt to influence a foreign election? Is that what the left or, for matter, the right, wants our government to do?

Finally, the investigation ought to generate a national discussion about what was revealed by the alleged Russian hacking. This is especially important as to what seems to have been the attitude of at least some officials of a major political party about religion. The Washington Post, for example, reported that, "[i]nternal Democratic National Committee [DNC] emails appear to show officials discussing using Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersMellman: On Political Authenticity (Part 2) Former Sanders campaign manager: Don't expect email list to be shared with DNC Adult film star: Trump and Stormy Daniels invited me to 'hang out' MORE's faith against him with voters."

Moreover, other emails show DNC officials making comments that Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia described as "contemptuously anti-Catholic." Similarly, last October, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York characterized the emails as "[e]xtraordinarily patronizing and insulting to Catholics."

Most interestingly, the cardinal also observed that: "If it had been said about the Jewish community, the Islamic community, within 10 minutes there would have been an apology and a complete distancing from those remarks, which hasn't happened yet."

People across the political spectrum should ask: Is religious belief yet another aspect of American life to be manipulated and "weaponized" for partisan political purposes?

If conducted thoroughly and impartially, the Russia probe could generate not just answers to troubling questions, but also thoughtful and even cathartic discussion.

However, everyone should be prepared — regardless of where they may be on the political spectrum — for moments of real discomfort. But maybe that's exactly the right prescription these days for America's profoundly distressed political environment.

Charlie J. Dunlap Jr. is a retired Air Force major general and currently professor of the practice of law at Duke University School of Law, where he is also executive director of the Center on Law, Ethics and National Security.


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