Like many, I am pleased to learn that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has filed initial charges in his investigation. Mueller’s assignment is broad, and it is likely that the indictments announced today are the first of many, though we may not learn of others for some time. Given his long history of exemplary conduct, both as a former U.S. Attorney and past director of the FBI, I have great confidence that Mueller will proceed apace, cutting square corners, and doing his job efficiently and with absolute integrity.
That said I have two notes of caution.
The first pertains to the seemingly complete absorption of the national media and social media with the filing of charges against Paul Manafort and Rick Gates. While these indictments certainly warrant the “Breaking News!” treatment, they should not distract our focus from other major stories - for instance the GOP's insistence on fast-tracking an irresponsible tax plan that would blow up the deficit, balloon the national debt, and shred our fragile safety net. We cannot succumb to the temptation to discuss only the newest, shiniest object in the room.
The second note of caution pertains to what we can – and cannot – hope to achieve through the criminal justice process. Mueller's efforts cannot address all of the problems relating to Russia's interference with our election. While his investigation is absolutely necessary, he is constrained to address only past criminal activity. Our nation must continue to look to Congress to reveal all wrongdoing and to ensure that it never happens again.
The Senate Committees on Judiciary and Intelligence must continue, and complete, their oversight investigations. They cannot use the initial indictments - and the many more that will likely come - to delay or distract them from their own responsibilities.
The House Intelligence Committee has seemed dysfunctional from the outset, but it too has a role to play – if only it can rise to the occasion.
In short, Mueller's investigation is essential, but it is not, in itself, sufficient to the moment. Congress has a great deal more investigative work to do, and we must insist it do it.