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President-elect Donald Trump jokes with retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn at a rally on Oct. 18 in Grand Junction, Colorado. (Photo: George Frey/Getty)

NYT: AG Sessions Must Appoint Special Prosecutor for Trump-Russia Ties

'The need for an independent actor who can both investigate and prosecute criminal wrongdoing in the executive branch is clear,' Times editorial board writes

Andrea Germanos

The New York Times has called for a special prosecutor to lead an impartial investigation into possible ties between the Trump administration—"which seems uninterested in telling the truth in matters large and small"—and Russia.

The Times editorial board writes Friday

the scope of a potential investigation expanded sharply in the last four days, with the firing of Mr. Trump's national security adviser, Michael Flynn, for lying to the White House about his contacts with the Russian ambassador, and the news that members of the Trump campaign's inner circle were in repeated contact with Russian intelligence agents last year, at the same time that Russia was actively attempting to swing the election to Mr. Trump.

The calls for investigations into the potential links have swelled, and the House and Senate intelligence committees as well as the Senate Armed Services Committee are already looking into claims of Russian interference in the election, but as the Associated Press notes, "the congressional probes are ultimately in the hands of the Republican committee chairmen," and that party appears to be shielding the president. 

The probe can't be in the hands of Federal Bureau of Investigation head James Comey, the Times writes, "after his one-sided interference in the 2016 election compromised the bureau's integrity and damaged Hillary Clinton's campaign in its final days." Moreover, he reports to newly-confirmed Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who, as others have pointed out,  is clearly not impartial given his key role in the Trump campaign. Yet, as the Times writes, Sessions "has said he sees no reason to recuse himself from any inquiry into the relationship between the president's top aides and Russia."

Given these factors, "the need for an independent actor who can both investigate and prosecute criminal wrongdoing in the executive branch is clear," the Times writes.

Among the questions the Times says this person should ask: "did Mr. Trump order Mr. Flynn, directly or indirectly, to discuss sanctions with the Russian ambassador? If not, why did he not fire Mr. Flynn weeks earlier, when he apparently first learned of his lies? Were Mr. Trump’s aides colluding with Russian agents during the campaign? Perhaps most important are Mr. Trump's tax returns, which could tell us whether he is beholden to, and thus compromised by, the Russians?"

And it is Sessions, as attorney general, who wields the power to appoint a special counsel.

A groups of 11 Democratic senators also made the call for a special prosecutor this week, writing to Sessions: "At stake is the integrity and honesty of our most trusted public officials and the viability of our justice system."

Analysts Ken Gude and Kate Martin made a similar case for a special prosecutor, writing Thursday at Just Security:

There is a strong case to be made that criminal investigation of these matters by the Department of Justice under Attorney General Sessions both presents a conflict of interest and constitutes extraordinary circumstances, and that appointment of an outside Special Counsel is in the public interest.

And according to former congressman Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind.), who was vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission, "Very aggressive leadership [to get an independent investigation underway] is necessary."

"There's just an awful lot out there that needs to be clarified and investigated independently by people who do not have an interest in the outcome of the investigation," he said to the Washington Post. "I am doubtful that the Congress can put together a very robust investigation," he said, adding, “Their performance on oversight in recent years has been deplorable —timid and not robust enough."

To the supine Republican lawmakers, commentators Bill Moyers and Michael Winship offer this message:

Those Republicans who stand by watching all of this, silently, in the hope that in return for their obeisance they will get away with forcing a right-wing agenda of privatization, deregulation, and inequality upon the nation, should keep in mind that when survivors look back upon a time of acute crisis, those who are remembered are not the spineless and opportunistic who hoped to snag a piece of the action. Rather, it is the men and women who rose in defiance and said this betrayal of what my country is supposed to be will not stand.

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