Top 10 Reasons The American Public Should Demand An Independent Commission
“We’ve seen what Russia can do with a MiG, but they can be equally destructive with a mouse. The American people deserve a nonpartisan, transparent, public investigation into this insidious attack on our democratic institutions,” said Senator Cardin (D-MD), Ranking Member of the Foreign Relations Committee.
“An attack against our election system is an attack on our very way of life and must not go unchallenged,” said Senator Feinstein (D-Calif.), Vice Chair of the Intelligence Committee.
The Special Counsel is supervised and can be fired by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. An Independent Commission would serve as a proper check and balance on both the Special Counsel and the DOJ oversight of the Special Counsel because it would be independent of the executive branch.
Although the Special Counsel’s investigation is conducted in secret, an Independent Commission’s findings and recommendations would be public. If a Special Counsel concludes that no crimes have been committed or that the evidence to prove a crime is unavailable, the results of the investigation would remain secret. Therefore, the best way for the public to understand the full nature of the Russian interference in the election, and whether anyone from the Trump campaign was involved, is to establish an Independent Commission.
The scope of an investigation conducted by an Independent Commission would be far deeper than whether any chargeable crimes were committed. An Independent Commission could look into conduct that is ethically or morally improper, or conduct that the public may disapprove of, but which does not fit neatly into the elements of a crime
After identifying those responsible for the assault on the cornerstone of our democracy — free and fair elections — an Independent Commission could recommend a response as well as actions the U.S. can take to defend itself in the future. Our elected officials should set aside partisan politics and create an Independent Commission to safeguard the integrity of our future elections.
An Independent Commission would be independent from Congress and would be able to follow the evidence without political influence by one party or another. No matter what the evidence reveals, an Independent Commission would more likely find and report the truth rather than block or hide it.
A number of people involved in the Trump campaign are known to have had contacts with the Russians during the campaign. The public deserves to know the nature and reasons for these contacts between the Russians and Carter Page, J.D. Gordon, Roger Stone, campaign chairman Paul Manafort, Richard Burt, former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and senior advisor and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner.
An Independent Commission would have appropriate resources and staffing for conducting an investigation. Although the Senate Intelligence Committee is investigating the Russian interference in the election, reportedly, only nine staffers have been assigned to the investigation. In comparison, the 9/11 Commission employed eighty (80) people. The resources currently allocated to this investigation are woefully inadequate.
Rep. Devin Nunes, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has demonstrated an unwillingness to conduct a fair and bipartisan investigation, by working with the White House transition team after the election and before the inauguration. During the investigation, Chairman Nunes conducted a secret meeting at the White House to share intelligence uncovered in the investigation with the President or his staff. The clandestine meeting resulted in ethics complaints and his subsequent recusal from the Russia investigation. Despite his recusal, Rep. Nunes still holds subpoena power to obtain records and testimony in the investigation. This power allows the Chairman to continue to wield significant influence over the investigation.
Standing Committees vs. Independent Comission vs. Special Counsel
|INDEPENDENT COMMISSION|| STANDING COMMITTEES||SPECIAL COUNSEL|
How Independent Is the Investigation?
|Independent. Once established, the Commission operates separately from Congress, and therefore, would avoid bias or partisanship.|| |
Not at all independent. Republicans control hearings, decide which witnesses to invite, and only the majority of the Committee or Chair may issue subpoenas.
Not entirely independent. The Special Counsel is supervised to some degree and can be fired by the Deputy Attorney General for good cause.
|How Is It Formed/|
Who Does the Appointment?
|Congress has to pass a bill to establish an Independent Commission. Congress also determines the scope of the investigation and appropriates funding.|| |
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed a Special Counsel to investigate and prosecute potential illegal conduct.
Is the Investigation Public?
|Yes. The Commission’s final report and recommendations to Congress are public record and therefore, they provide the most transparency.|| |
Yes, mostly. Most hearings are public, although the Committees also hold closed hearings where Members are briefed on sensitive and classified information.
No. The Special Counsel conducts criminal investigation in secret.
What Can Be Done About Any Crimes Discovered?
An Independent Commission cannot prosecute. If the Commission finds that the President has engaged in inappropriate or illegal conduct, it may recommend impeachment and removal from office. Crimes committed by others would be referred to the Special Counsel for prosecution.
House and Senate Committees cannot prosecute. If the Committees find that the President has engaged in inappropriate or illegal conduct, it may recommend impeachment and removal from office. Crimes committed by others would be referred to the Special Counsel for prosecution.
A Special Counsel has the power to prosecute crimes. However, if the Special Counsel finds that the President has engaged in illegal conduct, only Congress can vote for impeachment and removal.
What Can The Investigation Look Into?
|An Independent Commission may investigate and report findings of improper or inappropriate contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence, even if no U.S. laws were broken. || |
The scope of the investigation is generally determined by the Chair of the Committee with consent of the Vice Chair.
The Special Counsel’s investigation is limited to only illegal conduct. After a full investigation, if the Special Counsel determines that a crime has not been committed or that a crime did occur, but the critical evidence is not obtainable or foreign witnesses cannot be compelled, then no charges would be brought.
What/Who Is It?
A bipartisan group of subject matter experts that may hold hearings, take testimony, receive evidence, and administer oaths. The Commission can subpoena (or compel) witnesses and evidence.
Existing Republican-controlled House and Senate Committees are currently investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
A lawyer appointed to conduct a criminal investigation and possibly prosecute any crimes uncovered.
Frequently Asked Questions On An Independent Commission
All seventeen (17) agencies of the U.S. Intelligence Community have unanimously concluded that Russia interfered with our election. The overwhelming connections of money and politics between the Trump campaign and Russia warrant a serious investigation. However, the statements and actions of some Members of Congress investigating these matters have raised serious doubts about their ability to conduct fair and thorough investigations.
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First, Congress is the appropriate branch of government that serves as a check on the Executive Branch. Congress is needed to ensure that the charges, if any, brought by DOJ are consistent with the findings of a bipartisan, independent body, an Independent Commission.
Second, an Independent Commission’s final report and recommendations to Congress are a public record and, therefore, they provide the most transparency. A Special Counsel, on the other hand, conducts the criminal investigation in secret. After a full investigation, if the Special Counsel determines that a crime has not been committed or that a crime did occur, but the critical evidence is not obtainable or foreign witnesses cannot be compelled, then the entire investigation would remain a secret.
Third, the jurisdiction of an Independent Commission is also broader than that of a Special Counsel. Whereas the Special Counsel only prosecutes criminal acts, an Independent Commission may investigate and report findings of improper or inappropriate contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence, even if no U.S. laws were broken.
Fourth, the Special Counsel is supervised to some degree and can be fired by the Attorney General or, in this case because Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself, the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Because Mr. Rosenstein participated in the firing of former FBI Director James Comey, an Independent Commission would serve as a proper check and balance on the Special Counsel.
The investigation should encompass:
- Whether Trump’s personal connections to Putin and Russian agents and others create an opportunity for blackmail;
- All of the financial ties of Trump, his family, and the Trump Organization that may make them beholden to the Russian government, Russian tycoons, and/or Russian organized crime;
- Russian investments in Trump operations and businesses in the United States and elsewhere; and
- Any cover up by Trump and/or his associates with regard to their ties to Russia.
There are two types of bodies that Congress can establish to investigate the Russia scandal to ensure some level of separation from political pressures: 1) an Independent Commission or 2) a bipartisan select committee.
An Independent Commission is formed by passing a law. Such a Commission is a temporary, independent group of subject matter experts that may hold hearings, take testimony, receive evidence, and administer oaths. Lying under oath subjects the oath-taker to prosecution for the crime of perjury. An Independent Commission has the power to subpoena (or compel) witnesses and evidence. At the conclusion of its investigation, the Commission reports its findings to Congress. An Independent Commission operates separately from Congress, and therefore would avoid bias or partisanship. The most noted example of an Independent Commission is the 9/11 Commission formed after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.
Yes. Two bills have been introduced, one in the House and one in the Senate, to establish an Independent Commission. In January 2017, Representative Eric Swalwell introduced H.R. 356, known as the “Protecting Our Democracy Act.” That law seeks to establish a National Commission on Foreign Interference in the 2016 Election. Approximately 199 members of the House co-sponsored the bill. Only 2 Republicans have signed on at this point. H.R. 356 is currently stuck in the Committee on Foreign Affairs because Chairman Ed Royce has yet to place it on the Committee’s agenda. On May 17, 2017, Rep. Swalwell filed Discharge Petition No. 115-2, a motion to bring the bill out of Committee and to the House Floor for consideration. The discharge petition has yet to receive the required 218 signatures for further action.
Also in January 2017, Senator Ben Cardin introduced Senate Bill 27 , which is intended to “establish an independent commission to examine and report on the facts regarding the extent of Russian official and unofficial cyber operations and other attempts to interfere in the 2016 United States national election, and for other purposes.” Twenty-six (26) other Democratic senators co-sponsored this bill. So far, no Republican senators have signed on to this bill. The senate bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, but no action has yet been taken on it in the Committee.
Yes. An option that would bypass the President’s signature is a Select Committee. The most famous example of which is the Select Watergate Committee — formally known as The Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities — created by the Senate in 1973 to investigate the Watergate scandal that ultimately led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. Established by resolution in either chamber, a Select Committee is usually created to focus on a specific issue when it’s not completely clear whose job it is to work on a particular subject matter. This type of committee does not require the consent of the President. A Select Committee is passed by either Chamber — House or Senate — by a simple majority (50% + 1 vote) with the approval of the leaders of the House or Senate. A Select Committee has subpoena authority and enforcement mechanisms. However, unlike an Independent Commission, a Select Committee does not operate independently of Congress, and because of that, the majority party can influence the investigation to fit within its political goals.