Michael T. Flynn, a real cowboy, rode off into the sunset Monday, but this movie is just beginning.

Not for a minute did Flynn’s resignation as national security adviser end the urgent need for Congress, the Justice Department, the FBI and anybody else who wasn’t born yesterday to dig into the Trump administration’s dealings with Russia — before and after Donald Trump was elected president. Flynn is gone, but who else might pose a national security risk?

EDITORIAL

Republicans in Washington would have you believe the movie is over and the credits have rolled. This was a story, they say, about how Flynn lied to Vice President Mike Pence and nothing more, and now Flynn is gone, so let’s turn up the lights and all go home. But that is a calculated deflection by a party putting politics before country.

Flynn misled Pence and other top White House officials about his conversations with the Russian ambassador to the United States prior to Trump’s inaugural. And Trump, it was revealed Tuesday, has known this for weeks. Flynn may have broken the law by discussing American sanctions with Russia in a phone call, and he certainly breached protocol.

But the more pressing question, still to be answered, is whether others in Trump’s inner circle were privy to these conversations, involved in such conversations themselves, or ordered them. Ultimately, the question becomes what Trump knew and did himself.

Don’t count on Congress to look into that. Senators and representatives are always reluctant to hold to account a president of their own party, but this Republican Congress is shaping up as particularly self-serving and cowardly. They have mastered the art of sounding principled while not acting on their principles.

“You cannot have a national security adviser misleading the vice president and others,” House Speaker Paul Ryan impressively intoned on Tuesday, as if that were the only serious concern.

Ryan’s a bright guy. He knows better. He knows Flynn’s actions were entirely consistent with the game of pat-a-cake Trump has been playing with Russian President Vladimir Putin since long before the November election. He knows the real question is whether Flynn was acting entirely on his own or at the behest of Trump or presidential adviser Steve Bannon. He knows, but he won’t go there.

In sounding the depths of this scandal, context is crucial. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, one of the few uncowed Republicans on Capitol Hill, made the point Tuesday.

“General Flynn’s resignation also raises further questions about the Trump administration’s intentions toward Vladimir Putin’s Russia,” McCain said, “including statements by the president suggesting moral equivalence between the United States and Russia despite its invasion of Ukraine, annexation of Crimea, threats to our NATO allies, and attempted interference in American elections.”

Trump himself tried Tuesday to deflect the public’s attention from Flynn by tweeting that the “real story” is the “illegal leaks coming out of Washington.” As if that were a problem. Given Trump’s disdain for a free press, thank God for those leaks.

If there is any chance the Senate, House or Justice Department — now run by a Trump appointee — will take an honest and thorough look at the Trump administration’s dealings with Moscow before and after the November election, it will be because an outraged public demands it. Democrats on Capitol Hill, who are calling for the appointment of a bipartisan special investigative committee, otherwise will be ignored. And the four congressional committees already looking into Russian meddling in the 2016 election will slow-walk their work.

Put the pressure on.

Demand a close examination by legislators of the transcript of Flynn’s conversation with the Russian ambassador. Demand that Flynn be called to testify under oath.

Demand that Congress and the Justice Department get to the bottom of why an American president would defend a murderous Russian autocrat by putting the United States on the same low moral plane, saying, “Our country does plenty of killing, too.”

Trump’s apologetics for Russia have never added up. Demand to know why.

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