President Trump acted quickly to facilitate the exit of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, our former colleague, less than 24 hours after the midterm elections. The appointment as acting attorney general of a longtime critic of Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election has also raised concerns. Capitol Hill is rightfully sending warning signals — from both sides of the aisle — against any attempt to derail the Mueller probe. But beyond strong words, there are actions Congress can take, including oversight and legislation, to ensure the investigation results in a public report. We know from our own experience how important such actions, and such transparency, will be.
We served together in the Senate for a decade, and for a time we served together as leaders of our respective caucuses — sometimes allies, often adversaries, but never enemies. The growing partisan divide then greatly foreshadowed the politics of today.
As it does now, an investigation into the president of the United States split Congress. We disagreed about the merits of that investigation, and whether it should lead to a House impeachment and Senate trial of President Bill Clinton. But when we look back, one issue on which we vigorously agree is this: A rare moment of bipartisanship allowed Congress and the American public to wrestle with the full implications of the investigation and its findings. In 1998, independent counsel Kenneth Starr sent a report to Congress on his investigation, which began as an examination of an Arkansas land deal decades before, and Congress voted 363 to 63 to release those findings to the public that September. This bipartisan act gave the American people a seat at the table.
We don’t know where the Mueller investigation will lead, but it is absolutely essential, especially in the current environment of headline tweets and spin, for the American people to have a seat at the table again. All 535 members of Congress will be better off if their constituents have access to the same set of facts. We believe it is critical that Mueller’s eventual report be made public, not censored as some administration officials have suggested. Only transparency will help the country move on, no matter what the facts might be.
It was important for America to see the facts in the Starr report. No matter the conclusion each person came to after reviewing the facts, they could be confident nothing was hidden from them. The public presentation of the report after a long and divisive investigation helped the country move forward and begin to heal. Our choice in the Senate — and we came down on opposite sides of it — was whether Clinton’s actions were simply morally wrong or amounted to high crimes or misdemeanors. The Senate decided they were the former.
But today, the stakes of the Mueller investigation are higher. At its heart is a question about national security. Russia attacked our democracy, as confirmed by the heads of 17 national intelligence agencies. The special counsel has worked to unravel the Russian plot, and every American of any political party should be able to read his findings and decide for themselves what happened. President Trump has embraced an open approach of communicating directly with the American people, putting trust in those who elected him. That same trust warrants a public release of the report so Americans can read the facts themselves instead of relying on the muddied filter of press and politicians.
It pains us to see how deeply divided America is today. If the Mueller report is suppressed or otherwise gutted, Americans will lose even more faith in their government. It will not help the Trump administration, which would look like it has something to hide, and it will make Congress, at least to many, appear complicit in a coverup. It will tell Americans that their elected officials do not trust them to understand the facts or give informed input. That’s not how you govern, and that’s certainly not how you heal a country.
We do not know what Mueller will find in the end. We believe he’s a good man who will follow the facts and call it like it is. Certainly, that’s the man the two of us knew so well when he led the FBI after 9/11, and when the Senate itself a few months later was attacked with anthrax. We trust Mueller to proceed with professionalism when the adversary is Russia, just as he did when the enemy was terrorists. Only a full and public accounting of the Mueller investigation will give Americans the opportunity to reestablish confidence in institutions that should be of and for the people — and transparent in their pursuit of justice.