GUEST OPINION: Young on independent counsel, a senator’s duty

By JOHN KRULL, guest columnist

U.S. Sen Todd Young, R-Ind., and I talked by phone just three days after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey and before special counsel was appointed to lead a Trump-Russia investigation.

The FBI, under Comey’s leadership, has been investigating Trump-Russia connections. Comey’s dismissal touched off a national firestorm.

Young and I had planned to talk about his maiden speech to the U.S. Senate, a thoughtful address calling for people to work together for the greater good. Young’s speech drew upon the thought of the conservative English statesman and political theorist Edmund Burke, who argued that the common good only could be achieved through the rule of law.

In the spirit of that talk, I said it is difficult, if not impossible, to ignore the current furor over the Comey firing.

Young agreed.

I said that I’ve noted that his response to the raging controversy has been muted.

Young said that is because he is waiting for the facts to be gathered before he renders a judgment. He adds that, “through all the noise,” the chair and the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee — Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., — are working together to try to determine what the facts are. Young wants, he said, to support the work of his colleagues as they perform their duties as members of a deliberative body.

Burr, I noted, was among the relative few Republicans in Congress to refuse to close the door to calling for a special prosecutor.

“I haven’t, either,” Young said quietly, before Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein appointed former FBI director Robert Mueller as special counsel.

He then talked about the practical difficulties of doing so — the fact that there, at present, isn’t an independent counsel statute on the books that would allow Congress to appoint one.

And, philosophically, he said, he did not want to hurry to appoint a special prosecutor, both because he did not want to rush to judgment and because doing so could allow senators to evade, or even abdicate, their own responsibilities.

“We shouldn’t have to subcontract,” he said, unpleasant tasks that promote the common good.

I asked if his stated goal of getting people to pull together isn’t made more difficult by all the upheaval and tumult produced by the Trump White House. Young paused, then said, politely, that a lot of journalists ask him questions that ask him to comment on Trump’s positions or actions. He said he doesn’t want to spend time differentiating his position from the president.

Doing so, Young argued, runs counter to what he wants to do, which is find places and ways Republicans and Democrats — Americans — can work together.

Emphasizing differences of opinion, he said, “might undermine my ability to forge a consensus.”

I try another tack. I asked if it’s hard to cut through all the noise generated by the Trump dramas to focus on issues that might help people.

Young’s answer is one word.

“Yes.”

He paused, and said his challenge is compounded by the fact that his isn’t a personality that plays well “on Fox News.”

“I don’t yell,” he said. “I don’t say a lot of provocative things.”

Although he is unfailingly respectful, it is impossible to miss the disdain in his voice as he speaks about hyper-partisans, both Republican and Democrat, who “turn up the volume” just so they can “excite the base.”

That’s why, he said, he is willing to be patient. His model for service in the Senate, he argued, is an older one, from an era when that body existed to quiet uproars and deliberate on difficult questions so reason might prevail.

He is willing, he said, to wait for his colleagues on the Intelligence Committee to do their work. If they need more resources to determine the facts, Young said he will consider those options in due course.

But he will wait to learn the facts before he commits himself, which is not exactly a vote of confidence the White House might wish for but speaks to Young’s sense of duty as a senator.

“It is always best,” Todd Young said, “to listen a lot before you open your mouth.”

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students. Send comments to newsroom@bcdemocrat.com.