Let’s trust the process of independent query

Now that a former FBI director has been given sweeping authority to investigate any connection between President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia — and “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation” — it’s time to exhibit some patience and let the process play itself out.

What needed to happen has happened — thanks to the ingenious checks and balances that the constitutional framers baked into our system of governance. That includes a free press fulfilling its watchdog role.

The news that the Justice Department on Wednesday appointed Robert Mueller as “special counsel” to lead a federal investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election was just one headline among many emanating from coverage of an increasingly turbulent White House.

The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake collected headlines from a span of 12 hours that began Wednesday and ended early Thursday:

■ “House majority leader told colleagues last year: ‘I think Putin pays’ Trump” (The Washington Post)

■ “Flynn stopped military plan Turkey opposed — after being paid as its agent” (McClatchy D.C. Bureau)

■ “Trump Team Knew Flynn Was Under Investigation Before He Came to White House” (The New York Times)

■ “Israeli Source Seen as Key to Countering Islamic State Threat” (The Wall Street Journal)

■ “Trump campaign had at least 18 undisclosed contacts with Russians — sources” (Reuters)

The latest barrage of stories paved over other recent developments. We scarcely had time to digest the questions raised by Trump’s firing of the former FBI Director James Comey and the subsequent revelation that the president had allegedly asked Comey to shut down the investigation of the Russian ties to former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

Whether that action — if it occurred at all — can be considered obstruction of justice is one of many questions Mueller now has a broad mandate to answer. Americans need to understand the forces that have shaped the president’s decisions. The prospect of an investigation conducted by a House committee was getting messy and now there’s the suggestion that the Justice Department wasn’t free from political influence.

Inconsistencies between the administration’s version of recent events and the president’s haven’t helped bolster his credibility.

For example, the White House said Trump fired Comey in response to a memo from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein critical of Comey’s handling of Hillary Clinton’s private email server investigation. But Trump himself told NBC’s Lester Holt that he planned to fire Comey all along, regardless of the Rosenstein memo.

After national security adviser H.R. McMaster told reporters that a Washington Post story detailing Trump’s alleged leak of highly classified information with Russians was untrue, the president confirmed — via Twitter, of course — that he shared facts with Russia pertaining to terrorism “which I have the absolute right to do.”

After Rosenstein appointed Mueller to the independent investigator’s role, the White House released a statement from Trump Wednesday expressing confidence that a thorough investigation would exonerate him. But by Thursday morning he had tweeted: “This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!”

We could chalk up these inconsistencies to nothing more than lousy communication within the administration. But they have eroded whatever trust the Trump team had managed to establish. Ever since he took office, the president has basically said, “there’s no collusion with Russia — trust me.” With the appointment of a special counsel, the Justice Department is acknowledging that the path to the truth has been compromised.

As Republican Jason Chaffetz of Utah, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, pointed out, Mueller has impeccable credentials. An independent investigation will parse out what’s real and what’s politically motivated. More importantly, it reinforces the bedrock American principle that no one is above the law.

Our democratic processes are working. One of them is getting to the bottom of a controversy through an independent inquiry so that the people can have confidence in the outcome. 

Our constitutional institutions will undergo yet another test, underscoring once again that the framers made America great from the inception.


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