IF PRESIDENT TRUMP wants to put lingering questions about his presidential campaign’s contacts with Russia behind him, he needs a clean bill of health from an impartial investigator. The Justice Department, now headed by political supporter Jeff Sessions, can’t play that role, and it looks as if the Republican-controlled Congress won’t either. A special prosecutor may be the only option left for a full and independent inquiry into Russia’s alleged tampering in the 2016 campaign.
According to US intelligence agencies, Russia meddled in the election with the intention of helping Trump and hurting his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton. Hackers linked to Moscow broke into the Democratic National Committee, stole embarrassing e-mails, and relayed them to WikiLeaks; they also hacked and released the e-mails of Clinton’s advisor John Podesta. A special prosecutor could obtain indictments of Russians involved with the scheme. It’s unlikely the hackers would ever see an American courtroom, but it could send an important message, in the same way that the Obama administration’s indictments of hackers aligned with the Chinese government seems to have slowed hacking attacks from Beijing.
Clearly, though, the most important task for a special prosecutor would be to untangle what communications, if any, the Russians had with Trump’s campaign, and whether crimes were committed in the process. According to The New York Times, the FBI is looking into contacts between Russian figures and three people close to Trump: foreign policy adviser Carter Page, political adviser Roger Stone, and Michael T. Flynn, the former national security adviser. They also recorded contacts between Russian intelligence figures and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, according to the Times.
None of those alleged contacts prove anything, but contacts between the perpetrators of a crime and its main beneficiaries should be more than enough to prompt an investigation. Hacking is a crime. Collusion with hackers could be too. To their credit, a few Republicans, including Representative Darrell Issa, have called for a special prosecutor.
Congress, which could be leading the investigation with a special committee, clearly has no appetite for making Trump uncomfortable. Sessions, for his part, has refused to recuse himself from matters regarding the FBI’s investigation into Russian activities. But the interference of a foreign government in US elections is serious business. The American people deserve a full accounting of the facts. Whether he realizes it or not, so does Trump, whose administration is under a growing cloud.