EDITORIAL: Congress must respond to Trump's Russia action

York Dispatch Editorial Board

A pair of remarkable stories last weekend raise troubling new questions about President Donald Trump’s ongoing relationship with Russian leader Vladimir Putin — and the seriousness with which that relationship is viewed at the highest levels of America’s intelligence community.

The Washington Post documented the continued, unprecedented secrecy with which the president has surrounded his meetings with Putin.

The New York Times reported that the FBI launched a counterintelligence investigation against Trump following his firing of former FBI Director James Comey.

Either of these disclosures would likely torpedo a traditional American president, but the Unsinkable Donald Trump continues to sail the partisan seas of American politics — through it is, increasingly, taking on water.

What these back-to-back bombshells make clear is that Congress is ignoring its duty every day it does not move to protect the ongoing investigation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, looks over towards U.S. President Donald Trump, left, as Trump speaks during their joint news conference at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, Monday, July 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, as usual, is the roadblock.

When he’s not ignoring House-passed bills to reopen the government — including one the Senate already passed last month, unanimously — the Kentucky Republican is refusing to bring to the floor legislation that would shield Muller’s investigation.

A bipartisan bill has already been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee, but McConnell continues to guild his reputation as the Senate’s leading defender of the president.

The president has certainly made every effort to obstruct the ongoing investigation, from firing Comey (and admitting it was because of the Russian investigation) to forcing out former Attorney General Jeff Sessions (and admitting it was because Sessions recused himself from the Russian investigation) to endless Twitter messages and public statements aimed at discrediting justice officials, influencing witnesses and disparaging the probe itself.

Indeed, FBI officials were quick to recognize the Comey firing as obstruction.

What is astonishing, according to the Times’ reporting, is that they thought it might reflect something far more sinister.

In the days following the firing, the Times reports, “law enforcement officials became so concerned by the president’s behavior that they began investigating whether he had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests.”

That’s jaw-dropping!

The Times says the probe was rolled into Mueller’s investigation shortly after it was opened, and goes on to report that, “No evidence has emerged publicly that Mr. Trump was secretly in contact with or took direction from Russian government officials.”

Of course, the president was in contact with Putin. Several times. And while the meetings themselves weren’t secret, the substance of them is.

“President Trump has gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal details of his conversations with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin, including on at least one occasion taking possession of the notes of his own interpreter and instructing the linguist not to discuss what had transpired with other administration officials,” the Post reported, citing current and former U.S. officials.

Again, the fact that the president operates in ways that are so out of the ordinary should not obscure the fact that these actions are extraordinary.

Here is where the new Democratic leadership in the House must act aggressively. There is no reason in the world for any American president (especially this one) to meet privately with any foreign power (especially this one), let alone keeping the substance of those meetings secret from high-ranking administration officials and diplomats.

Such actions cry out for the type of oversight that House Republicans, disavowing their constitutional responsibilities, turned their backs on.

There may yet turn out to be no collusion — as the president never tires of parroting — between the Trump campaign and Russia in the 2016 presidential election.

But the question marks grow, and the questionable behavior of the president continues.

The House must use every legitimate oversight tool at its disposal, then, to uncover Trump’s actions with regard to Russia.

And the Senate must take immediate action to prevent any further attempts at presidential meddling.