The Guardian view of Trump’s Russia links: a lot to go at | Editorial

When the president’s own staff turn up in Washington to publicly rebut his accusations that he had been wiretapped by his predecessor, it’s not good news for the White House. Yet the longer the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, James Comey, and Mike Rogers of the National Security Agency appeared in front of a committee of Congress, the worse it got. Since last July, Mr Comey said, the president’s campaign has been investigated for colluding with Russia to influence the 2016 election. Donald Trump’s election machine is coating his White House with sewage.

Yet Donald Trump, with the insouciance of a Bourbon monarch, shows no sign of taking any notice of the facts. Nor, it seems, will he retract false claims, nor will he be held accountable for his dissembling. Mr Trump is prepared to carry on in disgrace. He spent the minutes after his own intelligence officers called him out for peddling falsehoods by trying to create a bizarre counter narrative with the @POTUS twitter account that stretched his credibility so far it snapped.

Testifying at the House intelligence committee’s first public hearing on Russian interference in the 2016 campaign, the FBI boss was clear that “with respect to the president’s tweets about alleged wiretapping. I have no information that supports those tweets”. Mr Rogers added he had no knowledge of anyone asking the British or any other ally to wiretap Mr Trump, refuting another wild allegation made by the president. Then came the bombshell that the FBI confirmed for the first time that the agency is investigating possible complicity between the Trump campaign and Moscow to influence the outcome of the presidential election. Given that the president has lost a national security adviser and had his attorney general forced to recuse himself because of links to Moscow, the stakes could not be higher. Mr Trump’s administration can hardly escape Russia’s shadow, but perhaps he is not bothered by being tainted for the moment.

The president knows that many leading Republicans have already disavowed links between the Trump campaign and Russia before their work has even begun. The tint of partisan bias would colour any exoneration or conviction by a congressional committee. That is why what is needed is an independent body, along the lines of the 9/11 commission, to look at Mr Trump’s dealings with Moscow. For months he has mocked the US intelligence community’s warnings about Russian cyberattacks aimed at interfering with the US democratic process and repeatedly praised Vladimir Putin. The testimony also raises questions about why, days before the presidential election, Mr Comey was silent about the investigation into Mr Trump’s Russia ties when he announced he had revived the inquiry into Hilary Clinton’s use of a private mail server. With good reason, Mrs Clinton blames the FBI for losing the White House. There was nothing to suggest she should face charges. With Mr Trump, we don’t know what happened between Moscow and his campaign. We don’t know what proof might be produced. What we do know is that a sitting president’s election machine is under investigation by the FBI for possible collusion with a hostile foreign power to win the presidency. If US lawmakers are confronted with evidence of wrongdoing in matters this serious, it would make Watergate look like a political prank.


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