Senate Democratic leaders on Wednesday rejected a push by some of their members to appoint an independent commission to investigate the charges that people linked to Donald Trump — including ousted national security adviser Michael T. Flynn — had frequent contacts with Russia during and after the 2016 presidential campaign.So, first of all, the transcript of Schumer's remarks today (which is below) doesn't explicitly preclude Senate Democrats advocating for bipartisan, independent investigations at some point. He did not call for those—which is unfortunate, given that Senate committee investigations leave majority (GOP) members in charge of the investigation, including decisions like whether their conclusions are even made available to the public.
Instead, Democrats largely agreed to handle the inquiry of Trump officials' links to Russia inside the Senate — specifically, through an investigation started by the Senate Intelligence Committee.
The decision was made at a Democratic conference meeting Wednesday morning hastily called by Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.). Schumer aimed to get his colleagues on the same page following a fresh report from the New York Times that Trump campaign aides spoke frequently with Russian intelligence operatives during the campaign.
...For now, Democrats seem to agree that the best approach to investigating President Trump lies with lawmakers instead of an independent entity of some sort.
But he didn't definitively rule them out, either. Thus, the story is somewhat misleading.
That said, it's still troubling that Senate Democrats aren't enthusiastically calling for an independent investigation, or a special investigation, or a select committee.
I don't know what Schumer and his colleagues know, so there could be a reason for that.
One possibility is that Senate Democrats have agreed to this charade in exchange for Attorney General Jeff Sessions recusing himself from the federal investigations.
But even if that is the calculation, I'm hardly sure it's a wise one, given that Donald Trump will still have his hands in the Department of Justice, irrespective of whether Sessions recuses himself.
Another possibility is that Senate Republicans have made clear that if Democrats push for an independent investigation, they will appoint partisan prosecutors, leaving Senate Democrats with a better chance of retaining some modicum of influence in a Senate committee investigation.
Recall that Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, when first presented with evidence of Russian interference in September, not only questioned the veracity of the intelligence, but told the Obama administration "that he would consider any effort by the White House to challenge the Russians publicly an act of partisan politics."
McConnell threatened Obama over this very subject; I would not put it past him to be doing the same thing to Schumer now.
But I don't know. I'm honestly not sure what the Senate Democrats are doing, or why.
I know, from Schumer's remarks, that they're taking this seriously:
This morning, I called together an emergency meeting of our caucus to discuss everything that has transpired in the last several days. General Flynn's resignation, the outright lies coming from him, this administration, and the reports of constant contact between the top officials in the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence are chilling. I have been in Congress for a long time and I've never, ever seen anything like this. These reports and revelations should not pit the two parties against one another—they should unite the parties in pursuit of the full truth. We are Americans before we are Democrats or Republicans. Nothing less than our system of checks and balances, democratic institutions, the rule of law, and our national security is at stake.The Senate Democrats want investigations. Which is something. It just may not be enough.
Senate Democrats are committed to not allowing this issue to become a political, partisan exercise. We will be fact-based, we will be measured, we will be thorough.
During our caucus meeting, we discussed the two tracks on which we must seek the truth. The first is in Congress.
Senator Warner, our ranking member on the Senate Intelligence Committee, is committed to using every resource in that committee to seek the truth. His committee will take the lead, but it will not be the only committee that looks into ties between the Trump campaign, transition, or administration, and Russia. These committee investigations must be bipartisan, they must have access to all intelligence, officials, transcripts, and documents that they need to answer critical questions and they must be permitted to make their findings public to the maximum extent possible.
Second, law enforcement must also get to the bottom of everything that may have transpired here.
In order to allow these two critical and important tracks to move forward, today the Senate Democrats are asking for three specific things. First, Senator Sessions must follow Department of Justice guidance and recuse himself. When the FBI looks into a matter, they do so right alongside prosecutors from the Justice Department.
Those prosecutors should not be reporting to the first Senator who endorsed Donald Trump's campaign, who served on the same campaign committee as Michael Flynn and who nominated Donald Trump at the Republican Convention.
The Justice Department's own guidelines demand that Attorney General Sessions remove himself from this matter immediately. If he does not, the investigation will remain jaundiced and the American people will doubt the credibility of its findings.
If this trail leads to the Oval Office, the person investigating that trail should not be the same person who helped put President Trump there—end of story.
Second, we will make clear that we expect all records from administration, transition and campaign officials be preserved. There is real concern that administration, transition and campaign officials may try to cover up ties to Russia by deleting e-mails, texts and other records that could shine a light on those connections. These records are likely to be the subject of these Congressional investigations and must be preserved.
And third, we're demanding that campaign and transition officials be made available to testify in public, under oath on these issues.
Paul Manafort and General Flynn have both been reported to have constant contact with Russian intelligence officials. They must testify and anyone else involved in this must be made available to testify, as well. Our caucus is united in these three requests and we hope and expect our Republican colleagues to join in these calls, as well.
The gravity and seriousness of this issue cannot be overstated. Our security is at risk. Our system of checks and balances and rule of law is at risk. This cannot be a time for partisan squabbles. Instead, it must be a time when both parties come together to protect the rule of law, the system of checks and balances and the security of the American people.
The problem is that investigations take time. There's very little urgency to investigations, especially thorough ones.
The other problem is that investigations are all the Democrats are constitutionally empowered to do.
But in this moment, with this administration, it all just feels a little formulaic. We are facing something extraordinary, and it doesn't seem sufficient to try to address it with Business as Usual.
I feel a little bit like Nic Cage shouting about how he needs to steal the Constitution to save it, but I increasingly feel like it's time to start breaking some rules in order to save the republic.