Calls for a special prosecutor to investigate the Russia-Trump affair have multiplied in the days since President Trump fired FBI director James Comey.
Almost invariably, Democrats and others calling for a prosecutor say such a step is needed to “get to the bottom” of the matter.
Yet there is still uncertainty about whether anything lies at the bottom of the Russia-Trump controversy. The reason is simple: The FBI won’t say.
To question after question; not just from the press, but from lawmakers, answers have been withheld on the grounds they are classified, the subject of ongoing investigation, or both.
As the Russia-Trump controversy festers, there are signs of growing impatience with the secrecy. Some lawmakers are pushing the FBI and other agencies involved to let Congress know what they are doing. In particular, lawmakers want to see evidence to show why the investigation is focusing not just on Russian misdeeds but on Trump campaign figures, and possibly on the president himself.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley and ranking Democrat Dianne Feinstein sent a letter to FBI acting director Andrew McCabe and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein demanding briefings. The letter indicated patience is running thin. “Please contact (staff) by 5 p.m. today to schedule the briefings,” Grassley and Feinstein wrote.
They wanted a response by 5 p.m. on the day of the letter.
The day before, Grassley and Feinstein made news when they strongly suggested Comey told them President Trump is not under investigation. Grassley said that when Trump said recently he had been informed he is not under investigation, “Sen. Feinstein and I heard nothing that contradicted the president’s statement.”
“I very much appreciate what you’ve said,” Feinstein said to Grassley. “And it’s very accurate ...”
A Republican aide explained that Grassley was deeply concerned by last week’s events. “We’ve seen an uptick in speculation about what has or hasn’t happened,” the aide said, “and what has or has not been found — and that’s not helpful if it is speculation not based on anything other than rumor or anything factual.”
Now, others on Capitol Hill are expressing similar concerns.
“There is a counterintelligence investigation focused on Russia, but the media and the Democrats conflate that with there being a criminal investigation focused on Trump,” added a House Republican. “The FBI has fed into this by being coy.”
“Coy” is an understatement.
But what to do? Classified information is still classified information. Ongoing investigations are conducted in secrecy. How can Congress pry information out of the agencies?
“Congress can always coerce the FBI,” Newt Gingrich said in an email exchange Sunday. “Power of the purse. Change the law.”
Maybe so. Right now, though, it appears that bipartisan pressure, like that coming from Grassley and Feinstein, might help. Does all of the information the FBI and other agencies have classified actually need to be classified? Can nothing more be made public?
Grassley and Feinstein want the FBI to brief every member of the Judiciary Committee. Just as a practical matter, that will certainly make it more likely that information will get out.
If nothing changes, the country could be facing months and months of accusations without voters knowing their basis in fact — or lack of basis in fact. Meanwhile, the FBI and other agencies could remain “coy” while Democrats seek to create the impression in the public’s mind that Trump and his aides colluded with Russia to throw the 2016 election. If the Trump team did that, the public needs to know. If they didn’t, the public needs to know that, too.