A roiling controversy finally boiled over this week, with Michael Flynn resigning as national security adviser after admitting that he misled White House officials about his dealings with Russian diplomats.
Now the Senate and House Intelligence committees are both probing Russia’s involvement with the 2016 presidential election. We urge the committees to make the investigations as broad and transparent as possible, with the goal of fully revealing the impact the recent events have had on the workings of our democracy.
What sparked the crisis were news reports about communications Dec. 29 between Flynn and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, during which Flynn allegedly suggested that the Trump administration would consider lifting sanctions imposed that day by Barack Obama in retaliation for alleged election-related hacking.
But as explosive as it is, the possibility that Flynn’s contact with Kislyak violated a ban on diplomacy by private citizens isn’t the biggest issue. What’s galvanizing attention is that on Jan. 14, according to The Washington Post, Flynn told then-Vice President-elect Mike Pence that he and Kislyak never talked about the sanctions. It wasn’t until Monday, the day he resigned, that Flynn officially owned up to having “inadvertently briefed the vice president-elect and others with incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian ambassador.”
Up until now, calls to look into potential ties between Russia and Donald Trump have been a partisan issue. However, both Republicans and Democrats in the Senate want to scrutinize contacts between Trump campaign officials and the Kremlin — and rightly so.
The possibility that Flynn gave Pence misinformation about what he told a long-standing U.S. adversary raises troubling questions. To name just a few: Donald Trump was reportedly told Jan. 26 that Pence had been misled by Flynn, so why did it take another three weeks for Flynn to leave? How does the Trump administration plan to deal with Russia? How sound is our national security apparatus?
Some Democrats want an independent commission to conduct the inquiries, but we believe that the House and Senate Intelligence panels can handle it, as long as they avoid putting the issue in an overly narrow frame. We’re encouraged that Angus King, who serves on the Intelligence Committee along with his fellow Maine senator, Susan Collins, told the Press Herald on Tuesday: “The matter of Mr. Flynn and what he communicated with the Russians is very definitely part of our work – even the famous conversation in December — but also whether there are other contacts.”
Focusing on who leaked information on Flynn’s conversations with Kislyak and events leading up to Flynn’s resignation would send the wrong message: That people who speak up about potential threats to national security will be punished for their candor. The American people deserve to know the truth, and their elected representatives shouldn’t shy away from making sure they get it.