Major news organizations (including Fox) have published stories that describe past contacts between campaign associates of the President and Russian diplomatic and intelligence officials. The President’s National Security Advisor, Mike Flynn, was forced to resign amid revealed contact between himself and Russian diplomats. The President’s Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, has had to recuse himself of internal investigations after it was revealed he, too, had past contact with Russian diplomats. Both individuals previously claimed they had no contact with Russian officials – all this, after the unanimous conclusion among US intelligence agencies that Russian intelligence interfered in the 2016 election. The public – and especially supporters of the President – have strong reasons to want a non-partisan investigation, which could be run by Congress itself, an independent commission, or a special prosecutor.
The President and many Republican legislators are most troubled by the leaking of classified information by officials in the intelligence community. Though the President has promised to crack down on those responsible, there are a lot of reasons to believe this will not fix the problem. The Obama administration prosecuted several leakers, but doing so successfully is still rare. It is rare enough that people still feel safe as anonymous sources for news organizations. There is good reason to believe that the people sharing classified information do so because of the President’s combative relationship with the intelligence community. So any crackdown by the President could lead to retaliation – and more leaks.
The only feasible remedy against these leaks is to remove officials’ incentives to leak by conducting a full investigation. Secrecy is the government regulating what the public is allowed to know (Moynihan 1998). In this case, deregulation – a standard conservative position – is a good thing.
Some Republicans have raised concerns that conducting such and investigation would get in the way of policies they want to enact, like tax reform and repealing the ACA (or “Obamacare”). Agenda time in Congress can be tight. In the past, Congress has solved this problem by creating an independent commission. There is a proposal to create such a commission in the House. Moreover, recently, southern-California’s own Darrell Issa (R-CA), as well as Newt Gingerich (himself a Trump advisor) called for the appointment of a special prosecutor. Either or both of these steps would avoid take the task off of Congress’ plate.
The alternative to a full investigation is the Trump Administration’s current strategy: call for the the prosecution of those who leak classified information, call the news outlets who report the leaks “fake”, and continue to deny all wrongdoing of any kind – while doing nothing to demonstrate that the reports are false. I think it is unreasonable to demand that presidents diffuse all accusations made against them. But many of the wildest suggestions of conspiracy about Trump and Russia should be easily disproved. Independent commissions and special prosecutors cannot manufacture conspiracies that do not exist. Unlike news organizations and politicians, innuendo and anonymous sources are not enough for them.
It seems apparent that the administration’s strategy is not working. Reports about Russian contacts began early in the campaign and continue to surface. Republicans feared an investigation would damage the President’s ability to govern. It already has. The only question now is whether they will take the only step that would put all conspiracy theories to rest for good.