On Monday morning, former President George W. Bush said he’s open to the possibility that a special prosecutor will be needed to get to the bottom of President Trump’s shady connections with Russia. His comments came shortly after Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) became the first — and, so far, the only — Republican to come out in favor of a special prosecutor last Friday.
During his Monday news conference, Press Secretary Sean Spicer pushed back. Asked about his thoughts regarding whether a special prosecutor is needed, Spicer argued that appointing one would be a waste of time because there’s nothing new to investigate.
“I guess my question would be, special prosecutor for what?” Spicer said. “We have now for six months heard story after story come out about unnamed sources saying the same thing over and over again, and nothing has come of it… so at what point, you have got to ask yourself, what are you investigating?”
“I think that both the House and Senate have looked at it, you know as well as I do that the intelligence community has looked at it as well,” he continued. “The president has spoken forcefully time and time again that he has no interests in Russia, he hasn’t talked with people in Russia in years… the reporting I’m seeing in different organizations suggests that there’s nothing new that’s being reported. It’s the same stuff over and over again that we’ve heard literally for six months.”
Spicer responds to Rep. Issa’s call to investigate Russia-Trump campaign ties: “A special prosecutor for what?” https://t.co/rdisLEZjpm
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) February 27, 2017
But Spicer mischaracterized what we know about the Trump campaign’s connections with Russia and how the administration has responded as more information has emerged. Leakers within the intelligence community told reporters earlier this month that the Trump campaign was regularly in contact with Russian officials at the same time Russia was trying to manipulate the presidential election in Trump’s favor. Axios reported on Monday that Spicer, in an “unusual” move, personally enlisted Senate Select Intelligence Committee Chair Richard Burr (R-NC), House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes (R-CA), and CIA Director Mike Pompeo in efforts to quash that story before it was published.
Last Thursday, CNN reported that White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus contacted top FBI officials and asked them “to at least talk to reporters on background” to dispute stories about “communications between Donald Trump’s associates and Russians known to US intelligence during the 2016 presidential campaign.” That report raised concerns about possible obstruction of justice. And we still don’t know to what extent President Trump was involved in Michel Flynn’s decision to discuss sanctions with the Russian ambassador before the inauguration. Those communications resulted in Flynn’s ouster as national security adviser after it was revealed he had lied about them, belying Spicer’s claim that “nothing has come of” recent reporting about Trump’s connections with Russia.
In short, many important questions remain unanswered. The effort administration officials have made to deceive the public and manipulate an ongoing investigation suggests someone is hiding something. And despite Spicer claim that recent reports are simply “same stuff over and over again,” news of all of the aforementioned developments broke in the handful of weeks since Trump took office.
Before Spicer’s presser was even done, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) — the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee — refuted Spicer’s claim that “both the House and Senate have looked” into the Trump’s campaign’s possible collusion with Russian officials who were seeking to interfere in the presidential election.
During a news conference of his own, Schiff said his committee has “reached no conclusion, nor could we, in terms of issues of collusion because we haven’t called in a single witness or reviewed a single document on that issue as of yet.”
NOW: House Intel Committee has reached no conclusion on whether Trump campaign colluded with Russian officials, Rep. Adam Schiff says. pic.twitter.com/GdEy2fu7sd
— CBS News (@CBSNews) February 27, 2017
Schiff added that thinks his committee “needs to do the investigation we are charged to do” to get to the bottom of it.
— CBS News (@CBSNews) February 27, 2017
But all three active investigations into Russia’s meddling are being overseen by people who are unlikely to be impartial. As mentioned earlier, the lead investigators in the House and Senate are Republicans who have already talked to reporters to dismiss stories alleging frequent contact between Trump campaign members and Russian intelligence operatives. And the Department of Justice investigation is ultimately overseen by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who served as Trump’s most outspoken advocate in the Senate during the campaign.
Concerns about impartiality were what led Issa to say he thinks an independent prosecutor is needed.
“You’re right that you cannot have somebody — a friend of mine, Jeff Sessions — who was on the campaign and who is an appointee,” Issa said on HBO’s Real Time. “You’re going to need to use the special prosecutor’s statute and office.”