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Congress must assure nation of unimpeded Russia probe

The official seal of the Federal Bureau of

The official seal of the Federal Bureau of Investigation is seen on an iPhone's camera screen outside the J. Edgar Hoover headquarters on Feb. 23, 2016, in Washington, D.C. Credit: Getty Images / Chip Somodevilla

Americans must be reassured that an independent FBI investigation into Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election and into possible ties to associates of Donald Trump will not be impeded.

We have not yet been given that pledge.

President Trump could try to convince us. But he has yet to come up with a plausible reason for firing FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday, lending credibility to the argument that he did so out of fear that he, or those close to his campaign, could be implicated. Besides, Trump has called the investigation a hoax, phony and a charade.

Stunningly, he met at the White House Wednesday with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, a key figure in the probe along with fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

Trump’s spokeswoman Wednesday didn’t inspire confidence, as she flailed about in her insistence that Comey’s dismissal was due to his mishandling of the probe into Hillary Clinton’s emails — justifying the decision on the backs of Democrats’ criticism of Comey. During the daily White House briefing, Sarah Huckabee Sanders also disparaged the FBI counterintelligence investigation into whether our democratic processes had been undermined by Russian hackers. The Russian probe is “probably one of the smallest things that they’ve got going on their plate,” she said.

Responsibility now falls to Congress to ensure that we will get honest answers.

True leaders must rise above partisanship, beyond party loyalty to fulfill their constitutional responsibilities. While some Republicans express dismay and reservations about what happened, it is disturbing that leaders of both chambers do not. “The president made a presidential decision to remove him,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also rejected calls for any new independent investigation. He said such oversight “would only impede” the work of the Senate Intelligence Committee. This is the same committee that has been criticized for its slow pace and lack of resources, issuing its first subpoena only Wednesday night.

Why doesn’t Republican leadership want to make sure that investigators will be able to independently seek surveillance warrants, issue subpoenas and determine who gets immunity? Until we get those reassurances, the Senate should not confirm a new FBI director.

The Senate should take all steps to make sure whomever the White House names as interim director is extremely qualified and committed to follow the investigation wherever it leads. Unlike a permanent replacement, who gets a 10-year term and needs Senate confirmation, the interim head does not, making him more susceptible to pressure. Trump initially supported Comey, but he became frustrated with the director when Comey wouldn’t support the president’s false claim that then-President Barack Obama wiretapped him or make investigating media leaks a priority. Why would the demands on Comey’s successor be any different?

Trump controls the Justice and Treasury departments, and the FBI, CIA and National Security Agency, which control all of the information that could determine whether his presidency continues. The House and Senate should not let him control them as well.— The editorial board