An unraveling web

Republicans must get on board with Russia investigations or risk complicity in nefarious ties

Republicans who continue to stay silent on the increasingly damning evidence revealing the Trump campaign’s ties to the Kremlin are playing a game with very high stakes—for the GOP and the nation. Several prominent Republican senators, including John McCain and Lindsey Graham, among others, have called for thorough bipartisan investigations, both in the House and Senate. But they have opposition from within the party, including from its highest-ranking member and a rogue congressman who has damaged the credibility of the House Intelligence Committee’s probe.

Three full months ago in an editorial (see “The Russian connection,” Dec. 29), prior to Donald Trump taking office, this newspaper called for careful scrutiny of the president-elect’s early nominees, including ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson for secretary of state. The oil industry executive was especially concerning because of his more than 20-year relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Keep in mind that Trump handpicked Tillerson for one of the nation’s highest cabinet posts despite knowledge of that connection at a time when the American intelligence community had determined that Russia had hacked Democratic National Committee computers in an effort to help him win the presidency.

A lot has happened since then that further connects the dots between Trump’s team and Russia. In mid-February, retired Gen. Michael Flynn was forced to resign when it was revealed that he’d met in private with the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, and lied to Vice President Mike Pence about such contact. We also know that Trump had known for weeks about Flynn being dishonest—now-fired Attorney General Sally Yates had informed POTUS weeks earlier—yet he didn’t call for his resignation until The Washington Post broke the story.

A few weeks later, it was revealed that Jeff Sessions, Trump’s recently confirmed attorney general, had also spoken with the Russian ambassador during the peak of the Kremlin’s efforts to help elect Trump, despite Sessions’ testimony to the contrary during his Senate confirmation hearing.

More connections to Russia: Carter Page, a former Trump foreign policy adviser—also met with the Russian ambassador during the campaign; Roger Stone, another former adviser with long ties to Trump, has Russian connections; and, most significant as of late, former Trump campaign Chairman Paul Manafort—he worked in secret with a Russian billionaire to influence American policy to the benefit of Putin in the mid-2000s and just a few years ago worked in clandestine efforts as a lobbyist for Ukraine’s pro-Russian faction. Not reporting such activity is a felony.

If that web of Russia-Trump ties isn’t dense enough, we’ve learned this week that Trump’s innermost circle was not immune to the Kremlin’s reach. Turns out son-in-law Jared Kushner met not only with Kislyak during the transition of power but also with the head of a Russian bank currently under sanctions related to that country’s annexation of Crimea.

The point is, in addition to the knowledge that Russia interfered with the general election, there’s substantive evidence of a close relationship between the Trump administration and a government headed by a murderous dictator who’s attempting to use America to advance his efforts to rebuild Soviet Russia and destabilize Europe.

GOP officials ought to be focused on these affronts to our democracy, but it’s clear that politics come before country for several of the party’s leaders. That includes House Speaker Paul Ryan, who has refused to call for California Rep. Devin Nunes to step down from his role as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russian meddling. Nunes acted more like a Trump surrogate in recent weeks when he met secretly at the White House with an unnamed source to view documents allegedly confirming Trump’s wiretapping conspiracy—a narrative that has been debunked by U.S. intelligence officials.

Sens. McCain and Graham have rightly called for Nunes to recuse himself. They know that anything less than an impartial and exhaustive review of the potentially nefarious contacts between the Trump team and Russia undermines the public’s trust and the very fabric of our democracy. Those who don’t act accordingly risk complicity in this unraveling web of deceit.