Why We Must Investigate Russian Influence on the Election

Congress should launch a full, independent investigation, similar to the 9/11 commission

America's Cold War nemesis may have succeeded not only in degrading global faith in American democratic institutions, but in subverting our choice for leader of the free world. Credit: Dennis Sinyakov/AFP/Getty

The Russian influence in our presidential election requires immediate action by Congress to launch a full, independent investigation – similar to the commission convened to investigate the attacks of 9/11. This committee requires subpoena power and the authority to release an unredacted accounting of this assault on our democracy.

The allegations surrounding Russia's cyber attack – made with "high confidence" by our intelligence community – are explosive: Hackers loyal to the Kremlin stole documents from both the DNC and the RNC, but released only the former to WikiLeaks. Under the direction of Russian President Vladimir Putin, the campaign escalated into a bald bid to install Republican Donald Trump as president of the United States.

The implications of this attack are staggering. America's Cold War nemesis – a resurgent authoritarian power with expansionist aims in Europe, subject to harsh international sanctions for its annexation of Crimea – may have succeeded not only in degrading global faith in American democratic institutions, but in subverting our choice for leader of the free world.

With Trump soon to take the oath of office, the Russian plot raises harrowing questions: What did Trump know of the effort, and when did he know it? What are we to make, in retrospect, of Trump's call on the Russian government to hack Clinton's emails last July? Or of Trump's unvarnished praise of Putin throughout the campaign? Or of Trump's efforts to undermine the NATO alliance? Or of the president-elect's refusal, even now, to acknowledge the Russian origin of the hack, and his denigration, instead, of U.S. intelligence?

The spectre of Russian influence casts an even darker shadow over the Trump administration moving forward. What became of the hacked RNC emails? Does the Kremlin have leverage – kompromat – over Trump or his inner circle? (RNC chair Reince Priebus is, today, Trump's chief of staff.) Was the appointment of Rex Tillerson, who was personally awarded Russia's Order of Friendship by Putin, as secretary of state made only with America's interest at heart?

Without a dispassionate investigation into the Russian attack, such open questions will metastasize into conspiracy theory, or worse. For millions of Americans, the legitimacy of the 2016 election will remain in doubt, furthering Russian interest in subverting our democracy.

A special investigation must fearlessly follow the facts, and lay them out with clarity before American voters. This is true whether they reveal the Russian attack was merely a noxious undercurrent to an election that Trump won fairly, or whether they reveal Putin effected a cyber coup to install the 45th president of the United States – whether they reveal Trump was a lucky beneficiary of Russian meddling, or whether he or his associates were active participants in the Putin plot.

This attack cannot be wished away or swept under the rug. Failure to investigate will invite not only corrosive doubt, but likely copycat attacks from other foreign actors. "When you have strong evidence a foreign power has interfered with American institutions, you keep digging and get the facts out," writes Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat who sits on the Senate intelligence committee who has called for information on the attack to be declassified.

The Russian cyberattack struck at the heart of our politics. But the investigation into its origins and its impacts must rise above partisanship. As South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham wrote with clarity on Twitter this week, "Russian hacking during the US presidential election is not a Republican or Democrat issue. It's an American issue. We must stand together."