The muck left behind reeks worse than the swamp itself. It is imperative that Republicans in Congress, including Sen. Chuck Grassley, stop holding their noses and let the dredging commence.

Only a special prosecutor can unwind the web of connections between Russian agents and President Donald Trump's administration, or, at the very least, a select committee tasked with offering Americans the truth. 

Pressure is mounting on congressional leadership following reports in the Washington Post detailing Attorney General Jeff Sessions' repeated contacts with Russian diplomats prior to November's election. Sessions testified, during his Senate confirmation hearing, that he had no contact with the Russian government. The Post story left the White House -- on a short-lived high following President Donald Trump's widely praised address to Congress -- reeling. 

The excuses and double-speak matter little. The fact is, Sessions either accidentally mischaracterized his mingling with Russian government officials or, at the very worst, committed perjury. For the second time in as many months, Trump found himself defending a cabinet member for being less than honest about confabs with officials from a country that was actively attempting to handicap the presidential election.

Yet Grassley made clear Thursday that he had no intention of seeking charges against Sessions for the false testimony offered to his Judiciary Committee. The least he can do is assure that any probe is legitimate and not some political facade. 

For weeks, Sessions rebuffed calls to recuse himself from the Justice Department's probe into the matter. His position only reversed after getting caught. But Sessions' recusal alone, which Grassley lauded, won't do. This flap perhaps should cost Sessions his job, regardless of how "ridiculous" Grassley finds the idea. 

It's becoming increasingly unsustainable for congressional leadership looking to quell this spiraling story. Investigations are ongoing in the appropriate committees, they say. But in too many cases, such as with Rep. David Nunes, chairman of the House Committee on Intelligence and an early Trump supporter, political interest casts doubt the real intent. Nunes even complied recently with a White House request to call the media and try to quash coverage about the administration's links to the Kremlin. Late last week, even more Trump surrogates admitted to meetings with a Russian diplomat prior to the election. 

Sessions is the second member of the administration to falsely describe his contacts with the Russians. Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn's downfall last month applied the heat to Republicans wanting this story to die. Sessions' lack of candor could cook them.

This disturbing matter outstrips attaining partisan goals. It's bigger than placating Trump's base, a dedicated group representing roughly a third of the GOP. Russian tinkering of the presidential election is, in a very real sense, a threat to national security and the republic itself. That threat is exponentially greater if Trump's inner circle were in on the ruse.

Former President George W. Bush nailed it when he recently said getting to the "truth" is all that matters. 

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Grassley has committed himself to principles throughout his career. He's defended whistleblowers against attacks from Republican and Democratic administrations. He's built a reputation for bipartisanship, one that was damaged last year when he stonewalled President Obama's Supreme Court pick. Sen. Joni Ernst is a relative newcomer. But she, too, generally displays a commitment to good governance.

Yet, throughout Trump's short tenure, they've remained relatively quiet about his business conflicts. They've yet to demand his tax returns. They've worn kid gloves when pushing back against the White House's falsehood of the day.

It's a Republican administration, after all. That's politics. We get it. 

But the troubling links between Trump's inner circle and Russia keep coming. They represent a clear and present danger to the U.S., its elections and its standing in the world. 

Americans deserve the truth. A partisan whitewash simply won't do. 

Local editorials represent the opinion of the Quad-City Times editorial board, which consists of Publisher Deb Anselm, Executive Editor Autumn Phillips, Editorial Page Editor Jon Alexander, City Editor Dan Bowerman, Associate Editor Bill Wundram and community representative John Wetzel.

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