Reports about Flynn raise more concerns about Russia

Reports about Flynn raise more concerns about Russia
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With each new day that dawns on the Trump administration, a little more light is shed on possible coordination between the president, his family, his businesses or his campaign and the Russian government before and after November’s election. 

And as leaders in Congress, we owe it to our constituents and our country to follow that evidence and hold to account anyone who broke the law or has undisclosed relationships with Russia. 

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Recent reports indicate National Security Adviser Michael Flynn may have broken the law by privately discussing U.S. sanctions against Russia with that country’s ambassador in the month before Trump took office — perhaps signaling that the incoming Trump administration would roll back those new sanctions.

This is objectionable unto itself, but in context, it’s absolutely intolerable.

The sanctions Flynn apparently discussed with the Russian ambassador were imposed by President Obama after our nation’s 17 intelligence agencies concluded that Russia interfered with our election in order to benefit the Trump campaign.

The potential quid pro quo is as clear as day. It looks as if Flynn without legal authority conspired with a regime that had just attacked our democracy’s foundation to benefit Flynn’s boss, and did so to help that regime deal with the punishment for that attack. Flynn’s efforts to walk back what previously had been blanket denials of such contacts merely deepen suspicion about his actions and motives.

Such a scenario would make it far less surprising that Russian President Vladimir Putin chose not to retaliate in late December after the Obama administration expelled suspected Russian spies and shut down Russian-owned compounds in New York and Maryland. Perhaps Putin already had been promised that penalties would be short-lived and that help would be on the way come Jan. 20.

It’s stunning that President Trump has not yet suspended Flynn and halted his access to classified information until a full investigation can be mounted. Yet all we hear from the White House are the lilting strains of “Stand By Your Man” as the fox continues to guard the henhouse.

Sadly, this is only the latest instance in which President Trump and most of his team seem pathologically unable or diabolically unwilling to utter a cross word about Putin’s Russia.

It surely sounded pleasing when Nikki Haley, Trump’s U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, recently condemned Russian aggression in Ukraine. But the administration’s actions belie her tough talk — all we’ve seen so far is disdain for NATO; pooh-poohing of the fact that Putin hacked our election to help Trump; denials or soft-pedalling of Flynn’s and other Trump aides’ contacts with Russia during and after the campaign; the President himself likening our own nation’s moral bottom line to that of a murderous Russian dictator; and a “technical fix” that was promptly praised in Moscow as an easing of sanctions.

To protect the future of this great democracy, we must dig down to the root of this discomfiting Trump-Russia connection. We must create an independent, bipartisan commission to fully investigate and make public Russia’s interference in our election through its illegal theft and selective release of private emails, its dissemination of fake news, or by other means.

Only an independent, bipartisan commission can dedicate itself and its staff to this crucial investigation full-time, without distraction. And only an independent, bipartisan commission can rise above the jurisdictional squabbles and perceptions of partisan bias that inevitably attach to congressional committees’ probes.

The bill I introduced with Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) to accomplish this — H.R. 356, the Protecting Our Democracy Act — is co-sponsored by every member of  the House Democratic Caucus. It’s our fervent hope that ever-mounting evidence of collusion between the Trump team and Russia will convince Republican members to sign on as well.

Don’t be fooled: Russia’s geopolitical aims are at odds with our own. It’s lovely to imagine a close alliance in which our nations could collaborate on defeating ISIS, but Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, its saber-rattling in the Baltics and its coddling of Syria’s brutal Assad regime amount to a massive destabilization of the world. And Putin’s ruthless record of imprisoning or even dispatching his rivals and critics are anathema to our most basic values.

It looks as if Michael Flynn might have lain down with dogs and got up with fleas; we must not let him and his boss drag our nation into doing likewise. Any violation of law in Flynn’s secret chats with Russia’s emissary must be pursued and punished to the fullest, lest we allow the impression that American foreign policy can be easily manipulated to other nations’ ends. 

Rep. Eric Swalwell represents California’s 15th District and is ranking member of the CIA Subcommittee of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.