THE intelligence community’s allegation that Russia intervened covertly in the 2016 election describes a significant assault on our democracy. The country needs to know more: The charge needs to be followed up with an independent investigation that continues after Donald Trump becomes president on Jan. 20. Congress should commit now to such a bipartisan inquiry. If there is a possibility that US laws were violated by the Russian political attack, the FBI and the Justice Department should begin a formal legal investigation. The Justice Department probe could be led by an independent counsel or an experienced US attorney, such as Preet Bharara of the Southern District of New York, whom Trump has already said he will reappoint.
The allegations about Russian hacking are framed in the unclassified report released last Friday by Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr., on behalf of the CIA, FBI and National Security Agency. That report made strong charges, but it didn’t provide detailed supporting evidence, which is contained in other, classified reports. The allegations are public, in other words, but not the proof. That’s a bad mix.
Somehow, this allegation of foreign meddling has to be taken out of politics. Otherwise, it’s too incendiary. It could be abused by Trump’s critics, or by Trump himself. An independent inquiry is the best way to safeguard the rule of law, and the insistence that nobody is above it. Recall what the intelligence chiefs alleged in the Clapper report: “We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. . . . We also assess Putin and the Russian government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavourably to him.”
How did Putin organise and implement this manipulative campaign? What funds were used, and from what source? Were any Americans involved in the effort? Did any Americans meet improperly with Russian operatives, in the United States or abroad? Does Russia believe it has any leverage over Trump, financial or otherwise? Are remnants of the Russian network still in place? On.....