Nearly 46 years ago, I was among seven U.S. senators who were part of the Senate Watergate Committee charged with investigating corruption and coverups at the highest levels of government. At the opening hearing, I asked, “The gut question for the committee and country alike is and was how much truth do we want?” None of us knew precisely what we would find - a list of enemies kept by the president, and tapes that proved the president’s complicity - but we knew that, as an equal branch of government, duly elected with a responsibility to provide effective oversight, we had to get to the truth.
Today, as special counsel Robert Mueller enters the fourth quarter of his investigation, the questions are familiar ones for the 116th Congress: How much truth do you want?
And how much truth do you owe the American people? My bottom line is the same as it was in 1973: It isn’t enough for the special counsel to complete his investigation and then have his report buried in a drawer at the Justice Department, or censored by those appointed by the subject of the investigation.
Mueller’s report and full findings must be made public for Congress and the American people to read. It is the only way to pull our country together around the truth, which after all should be the standard.
I don’t know what Mueller has found or will find. I know there is much that is deeply disturbing in the indictments already public. But I know that if the president is as innocent as he has argued from day one, then he should want Mueller’s report to be public and transparent, rather than rebutted and censored as Rudy Giuliani, the president’s lawyer, has already suggested he will do.
Our country is as polarized as we have been in recent memory. President Donald Trump’s tweets and tantrums about Mueller’s inquiry do a disservice to anyone who simply wants the truth about Russia’s attacks on our elections and whether any Americans conspired with them. That is why the public needs to see the special counsel’s full, unvarnished findings for themselves- with redactions to protect only information that is classified or otherwise restricted by statute.
Only by reading the evidence and conclusions that detail how Russia carried out its attacks and whether any members of the Trump campaign committed additional crimes can the country protect itself from future threats and assess accountability.
The good news is that I hear some voices emerging in Congress across partisan lines, green shoots of statesmanship after a winter of silence. Republican Sens. Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina have co-sponsored a bipartisan bill that would protect not just this special counsel, but all future special counsels, from political interference. Sens. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., recently introduced legislation that would require the Justice Department to release the special counsel’s findings to Congress and the public.
William P. Barr, the president’s nominee to become attorney general, has signaled he may not, under certain conditions, release the evidence that Mueller uncovers. But the American people have a right to see as much information from the special counsel’s investigation as possible. This decision should not be left to the attorney general alone, even if it means using congressional tools - from subpoena power or the appropriations process - to make the report public.
To those who argue that it is hopeless to expect the president’s party to do more than rubber-stamp his attacks on Mueller through silence or action, I’d remind them of where we found ourselves in 1973. President Richard Nixon had carried 49 states in the 1972 election. He would remain popular with a majority of Republicans until the day he left office. But we drew the line, nonetheless. There is a proper place for Congress to take Mueller’s findings and hold anyone who committed a crime accountable, including the president.
It will take all of us - Republicans, Democrats, and none of the above - joining once again to make sure Mueller can release his findings for everyone to read. If that happens, I am confident that we will emerge stronger, as Ernest Hemingway wrote, “at the broken places.”
Lowell Weicker, as a Republican, served Connecticut in the U.S. Senate from 1971 until 1989, and, as an independent, as governor from 1991 to 1995.