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Tuesday, September 17, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Editorial

Independent probe was sorely needed

Politics moves awfully fast in the Trump era.

Eleven days ago, the call for an independent investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election was split along party lines. Now, the naming of former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special prosecutor has been met with bipartisan praise and relief. As it should.

Let’s recap this bizarre journey, beginning with May 8:

– Former acting Attorney General Sally Yates tells Congress that the Obama administration warned the Trump transition team about Michael Flynn’s ties to Russia.

– President Trump abruptly fires FBI Director James Comey. Official reason: botched handling of Hillary Clinton email investigation. Trump undercuts this rationale, saying he was going to fire the “showboater” and “grandstander” all along. He also says “this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.”

– Trump meets with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak at the White House. Later, the Washington Post reports that he shared highly classified information with them, burning an Israeli source. The administration calls the story false, but Trump essentially confirms it in a tweet.

– The New York Times reports that Trump asked Comey to back off on the Flynn investigation during a February meeting at the White House. The paper cites a memo Comey reportedly wrote after the one-on-one meeting. Other media confirm this account.

– Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appoints Mueller. Trump, on Thursday, denies pressuring Comey. He calls the Russia investigation “the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!”

Who knows where this saga will lead today, but Rosenstein made the right move in turning this over to an independent prosecutor. The attorney general’s office is already tainted. Attorney General Jeff Session was forced to recuse himself when it was revealed that he met with Kislyak twice last year. Rosenstein wrote a justification for Comey’s firing that few people now believe.

Meanwhile, the congressional inquiries are being run by Republicans who, before Comey’s firing, had been reluctant to burrow deeper. Republican leaders now seem far less interested in running interference for the Trump administration.

Sen. Jim Risch and Rep. Raul Labrador, both of Idaho, haven’t said much about the reports of Trump pressuring Comey, but they have defended the president in general. Risch has expressed more anger with the leaks than what they reveal.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers says she wants Congress to gather the facts and to talk to Comey again. She also wants transparency. That would’ve been handy all along.

Russian media was invited to the meeting between Lavrov, Kislyak and Trump. U.S. media was kept out. Russian President Vladimir Putin says he could provide a transcript of the meeting to clear up any dispute. It’s all too surreal.

This mess cried out for an independent investigator with impeccable credentials. It now has one. The president should welcome this development, if he has nothing to hide.

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