WASHINGTON – Sen. Amy Klobuchar is diving into the boiling controversy over Russia and President Donald Trump, vowing to leverage what she said are strong alliances with her Republican colleagues to push for an independent investigation into possible ties between the new administration and America’s global rival.
“Why did all of this happen? Why was the Trump campaign so focused on placating Russia and making them happy when they have been ruthless to our allies and ruthless trying to attack us?” Klobuchar said.
The resignation last week of Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn, after revelations he communicated with Russian officials and then lied about it to Vice President Mike Pence are “a major problem for our government, and it makes it look like we don’t know what we’re doing,” Klobuchar said.
Flynn’s resignation, and subsequent reports last week of multiple contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials, have rocked the new administration and Washington in recent days.
Klobuchar had already been signaling a growing interest in U.S.-Russia relations before the most recent developments. In late December, Klobuchar joined Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham on a trip to the Baltic states and Ukraine, where she said they learned that Russia has tried to influence elections in Estonia and Lithuania. U.S. intelligence agencies have since suggested Moscow also meddled in last year’s U.S. presidential election.
Klobuchar said she believes Russia is “emboldened.” She’s worried the U.S. is not negotiating with the country from a position of strength and says the Trump administration must be more transparent about its contacts.
Democrats and some Republicans in Washington have vowed to investigate possible ties between Trump and Russia, though it’s not yet clear what form those investigations will take. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said it should be an effort of both House and Senate Intelligence Committees — which would likely keep it classified and closed off to the public.
Klobuchar is instead pushing for a bipartisan, independent commission, akin to the 9/11 Commission, that would be more open to the public. Other members of Minnesota’s congressional delegation are split on the matter, largely along party lines.
Republican Rep. Jason Lewis, Minnesota’s newest member of Congress, said he thinks probes by the House and Senate Intelligence committees would be sufficient. But he also raised concerns that Flynn’s civil liberties were violated when U.S. agents reportedly listened in on a conversation between Flynn and the Russian ambassador to the U.S. before Trump took office.
“I’m concerned about civil liberties when you have unelected bureaucrats listening to private citizens,” Lewis said. “Is that not a concern?” He added that “It’s a little too clever by half to have the same people so concerned about Russia hacking during the election have no problem at all with us listening in on phone conversations of the Russian ambassador.”
Democratic Sen. Al Fran-ken demanded that the president release his tax returns for more transparency.
“The American people deserve to know the full extent of the president and his team’s ties to Russia, including financial ties,” Franken said. “This is why he must immediately release his tax returns.”
Republican Reps. Erik Paulsen and Tom Emmer declined to comment for this story. Paulsen, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, voted last week against a measure that would have required Trump to release his tax returns.
Democratic Rep. Tim Walz, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, joined Klobuchar’s call for an independent commission to probe the full extent of the Russian hacking. He said he hopes the commission would investigate relevant ties between Russia and any U.S. citizen or political operative.”
“The American people not only deserve to know how the United States was attacked in the 2016 election but also who all is responsible for this assault on the heart of our democratic institutions,” Walz said.
Democratic Rep. Betty McCollum said the problem with the investigation being limited to the intelligence committees is the public doesn’t know what is happening.
“This needs to be done in a more open and transparent way,” she said. “Our allies need to know that we are not in a position where we have anyone in our White House or executive branch that could be coerced by Russia.”
Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan said he would like everything to be cleared up so the president can start working with Congress on campaign promises.
“I would think the sooner he can take all of this investigatory stuff and send that off to an independent investigation, the sooner he could settle down in the White House and work on the issue that resonated most for the people who voted for him,” said Nolan whose congressional district went for Trump by 16 points. “He runs a jobs campaign and that’s why people voted for him, but we haven’t heard a darn thing from him about that.”