News Fast Five: Russia Investigation
Since before his inauguration, President Donald Trump’s administration has been embroiled in scandal.
His campaign’s contacts with Russia, Russia’s efforts to help elect Trump to the presidency and Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey have all ensured Russia will stay in both the news and the halls of the capital and the public conscious for the duration of his term.
With developments arriving week after week, here are the top five things you need to know about the Russia investigations, as well as the background you need to stay informed:
1. There are six different investigations into Russia's involvement in U.S. Politics
Six separate governmental investigations continue to pry into Russian interference during the 2016 presidential election.
Not every investigation is asking the same questions, but they all focus on five major concerns with legal, national security and public opinion implications. The first focus is on Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election; a report released by 17 U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russia, on the orders of President Vladimir Putin, hacked Democratic, Republican and other election targets in an effort to undermine trust in U.S. institutions, as well as to help elect Donald Trump to the presidency.
Then there is former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn; The official resigned after 23 days once it came to light that he lied to Vice President Mike Pence about his contact with former Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the campaign. Flynn has since registered as a foreign agent due to his paid consulting work for a Turkish businessman.
Next up are the Comey memos. The memos show an effort by Trump to weaken the independence of the FBI, which culminated in the firing of Comey.
Another focus is the collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Multiple Trump associates have lied about their contact with Russian officials during the 2016 presidential campaign, most recently Donald Trump Jr. Alone, the legality of such contact is ambiguous, but they have prompted questions of whether the Trump campaign illegally colluded to effect a hostile foreign power to undermine the election.
Finally, there is the leaking of classified information, which have helped fuel the Russia investigations. The Trump administration and many Republicans have expressed grave concern over these continued leaks and a desire to stop them by punishing those responsible.
2. Four congressional committees are investigating Russia
The Senate Judiciary subcommittee on crime and terrorism investigates the prevention and deterrence of foreign interference in future U.S. elections, and is also involved in the Justice Department’s investigation of Flynn.
The House Intelligence Committee looks at Russia generating fake news during the election and decides how the U.S. government should respond to Russia’s interference in the election.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee doesn’t focus on a one aspect, but the investigation as a whole.
In addition to the congressional committees, the FBI and Justice Department also investigate.
The Justice Department is conducting their own independent investigation, led by special counsel and former FBI director Robert Mueller III.
Mueller was appointed as special counsel after Trump fired Comey over his agency’s investigation.
3. None of the investigations have released a report
The FBI and Justice Department are conducting their investigations independently and privately.
The Congressional investigations have hosted a series of public hearings, but have also scheduled several closed-door meetings.
So far, excluding leaks to the media, the only window the public has into the official investigations is through these public hearings, which have revealed that Sessions lied about his contact with Russian officials during his Senate confirmation hearing.
They have also revealed that Trump asked for Comey’s loyalty, and for him to cease the FBI’s investigation into Flynn before firing him.
Former acting attorney general Sally Yates, among others, have already testified to these committees, and subpoenas are continually issued to members of the Trump administration.
These hearings seek information on the nature of contact with Russian officials during the election and who in the campaign was aware of these events.
4. Many in Trump's camp could be found in violation of the law
If members of the Trump campaign solicited, accepted or received any valuable information or help from a foreign national or government during the election, they would be in violation of federal campaign law.
Additionally, Trump associates who lie or have lied under oath about their contacts with Russian officials during the election could be charged with perjury.
After Trump fired Comey, a move Trump admitted was because of the FBI’s Russian investigation, some experts believe the House of Representatives could introduce articles of impeachment on the grounds of obstruction of justice.
Flynn could face implications for failing to register as a foreign agent during the campaign.
5. Russia's efforts undermine the American people
The Obama administration waited until after the election to retaliate against Russia for meddling in the election.
The problem is that having a hostile foreign power undermine the sanctity of a democratic election threatens the core values of the U.S.
Already, Russia’s efforts demonstrate success in efforts to undermine trust in U.S. institutions.
America’s international influence, national security and democracy cannot remain secure if the right to vote is manipulated by enemies abroad.
The aforementioned investigations communicate in their public mission statements that their primary goal is to seek the truth in the interests of the American public.
Follow Randall Eck on Twitter.