When I heard that U.S. Sen. Rand Paul had said, “It doesn’t make sense for Republicans to investigate Republicans,” (over Trump administration ties to Russia) my first thought was, well, OK, let us Democrats do it.
My second thought was a recollection of 43 years ago, when I was a staffer for Republican Sen. Marlow Cook, and the Watergate break-in scandal roiled the country.
The political landscape looked a lot different then. Republican Richard Nixon occupied the White House, but Democrats controlled the House and Senate, and partisanship was not as divisive as it is today. Still, when it was clear that national Democratic headquarters had been breached, and the leader of that adventure had ties to the Nixon political organization, Republicans had to make the difficult choice of whether to defend the head of their party, or the integrity of the democratic process.
Several Republicans rose to the occasion. Sen. Howard Baker of Tennessee was a member of the special investigating committee on Watergate. He is best known for questioning every witness as to: “What did the President know, and when did he know it?” He was as dogged in getting to the truth as any of the Democrats on that committee.
And then there was my boss. In the middle of his campaign for re-election against the formidable sitting Gov. Wendell Ford, Cook faced an impossible dilemma when evidence surfaced that President Nixon had been involved personally in covering up the burglary and the ties to his White House.
I remember going into Cook’s office the morning after he had seen the evidence, but the public still had not. He had concluded that the president had committed what was probably an impeachable offense, and he had to make a public statement. He asked for his options, so the late U.S. District Court Justice Ron Meredith and I talked it over and then presented them to our boss.
The senator rejected a simple statement of outrage — the least risky response, other than silence — and decided to call for Nixon’s resignation.
The statement he issued (which I proudly wrote) described Nixon’s “moral turpitude” and, citing Abraham Lincoln, said that the president had irretrievably surrendered the ability to lead the country.
I cannot overstate how courageous Cook was, because not only did he knowingly and willingly commit political suicide, he was the first Republican to call for resignation. To this day I remain in awe of the high standard of patriotism he displayed in that situation. So to paraphrase the famous comment aimed at vice-president candidate Dan Quayle in 1988, this time addressed to Sen. Paul, “You sir, are no Marlow Cook.”
On almost a daily basis there are new revelations about suspicious activities involving Trump connections and Russia. The issues involve far more than Russian efforts to influence the U.S. Presidential election, although messing with our elections certainly warrants intense national attention. But now we have evidence of significant business connections between Trump and Russian oligarchs, and numerous conversations between the Trump team and Russians — both diplomats and intelligence officers — about relaxation of American economic sanctions on that country. Furthermore, the Trump administration steadfastly denies those contacts occurred, while leaked transcripts, and Russian officials, indicate they did.
As the plot gets thicker and thicker, the silence from Paul and other congressional Republicans becomes more and more disappointing, and the consequences for the security of the United States appear more and more ominous. Only Sen. John McCain among Republicans has spoken out about the seriousness of the new “Russian threat.”
What we are seeing is a potential major shift in long-standing policy toward Russia, Western Europe and many other American allies, possibly driven by Trump’s personal financial entanglements, and with no national debate. The American people have a right to know where their country is being taken and why.
With Republicans in charge of the government’s investigative mechanisms, all Democrats can do is holler and protest the unwillingness of President Trump’s party to publicly investigate the Russia-Trump connection. So all I can do is ask Sen. Paul and his colleagues on the other side of the aisle: With the integrity of our democracy and our national security at stake, exactly how big a scandal would it take for Republicans to think it is sensible to investigate? •
John Yarmuth, founder of LEO, has represented Kentucky’s 3rd Congressional District since 2007.