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The Trump-Russia cloud

Will Republicans step up and get serious about Trump-Russia investigation?

There's a dark cloud hovering over the White House, and the sooner light is shed upon it — the sooner it's found to be either calamitous or no more than a passing curiosity — the better off the country will be. FBI Director James B. Comey's acknowledgment that his agency is investigating whether President Donald J. Trump's campaign staff worked with Russia to influence the 2016 election may have been no surprise given the sheer volume of leaks surrounding the Trump-Russia connection, but it is a grave matter nonetheless.

President Trump, his aides and his allies in Congress are doing themselves a grave disservice through their efforts to misrepresent the investigation, deflect its scrutiny, confuse the public and just blatantly lie about what's happening. The canard about President Barack Obama authorizing the wiretapping of Trump Tower, a sensationalistic fantasy spun by the president, dispelled by Mr. Comey and Admiral Michael Rodgers of the National Security Agency in their testimony Monday before the House Intelligence Committee but clung to by Trump spokesman Sean Spicer like a life raft in a storm, is Exhibit A for anyone seeking to prove that the president's public statements can't be trusted.

Whatever one may think of President Trump's first two months in office, jarring and unconventional, amateurish and egocentric or foreboding and worrisome, the mere possibility of collusion between his campaign minions and representatives of Russian President Vladimir Putin to prevent Hillary Clinton from winning (or perhaps to simply reduce public confidence in the U.S. election and its government) deserves to be thoroughly investigated and followed, as Mr. Comey promised, for as long as it may take and in whatever direction it goes. How else can the public now have confidence in the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?

Yet over and over again at Monday's hearing, Republicans took the position that either there wasn't much there there — as Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes demonstrated by repeatedly questioning whether voting machines were hacked directly (an allegation that hasn't been of particular concern but for which Mr. Comey quickly agreed he's found no evidence) — or directed their ire at leaks of possibly classified information and suggesting the jailing reporters who publish such material. That was the favored tactic of Rep. Trey Gowdy of Benghazi witch hunt fame who rarely finds an investigation he can't politicize. (And for the record, leaking classified information is, indeed, a felony, but publishing it isn't. Focusing on that sideshow while there's a far bigger matter at hand is clearly more a matter of changing the topic than standing on principle.)

Democrats have little reason to be confident in Mr. Comey, considering how his 11th hour letter to Congress regarding Ms. Clinton's email (its allegations essentially retracted just three days before the election) damaged her candidacy — a decision made all the more incredible given that he simultaneously stayed mum on Trump-Russia investigation that his agency had launched weeks earlier. But what choice is there? There are Republicans in Congress who seem to understand the gravity of the allegations on the table, but sadly, many have chosen to ape the president's favored tactic of never admitting to be wrong, counter-punching hard at any criticism and making up facts along the way. Mr. Spicer's Monday pronouncement that former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort had a "limited role" in the campaign for a "limited amount of time" and that disgraced National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was only a volunteer on the campaign is a rewrite of history that would have caused Pinnochio's otorhinolaryngologist to recommend some serious rhinoplasty.

Enough is enough. Mr. Trump has already set a modern record as the least popular president at this point of a term in history, the latest Gallup poll pegging his approval rating at 37 percent. Embarking on a major coverup isn't going to instill public confidence. Cooperating with the FBI investigation and insisting the Trump administration be candid and forthcoming about what it knows about Russian interference with the election and when it knew it will provide the reassurance the public needs right now. This is a time for honorable men and women to show courage and honor, not a time for politics — and that also applies to Democrats who might seek to neuter Mr. Trump through innuendo before the facts are known. Ultimately, what's needed is the appointment of an independent special prosecutor to direct the investigation into Trump's Russia ties or the president may find this is one dark cloud that never goes away.

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