Protecting the special counsel is an American duty
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Late last week, the Republican-controlled House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence released the controversial and infamous “Nunes Memo,” the latest ploy in the ongoing campaign by the president and his supporters in the Congress and the media to scuttle or undermine the investigation of Special Counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and the involvement or collusion, if any, of Trump Campaign operatives in those efforts. This highly-partisan act illustrates once again, the depravity of the assault that threatens compromising the underpinning of our Constitution.

In light of this new development, it is even more urgent that action be taken immediately to protect the independence of the special counsel investigation.

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Our country is founded on the idea that the rule of law is paramount.  When wrongdoing has reached the highest levels of government, independent investigations help the American people learn whether their leaders are worthy of the trust placed in them by the citizenry.  This is a solemn responsibility that must be viewed apolitically, with an eye towards revealing the truth, rather than deepening the partisan divide. 

This is why it is crucial for Republican congressional leaders to bring H.R. 3654, the “Special Counsel Independence Protection Act,” to the floor at the earliest possible time for debate and vote by the full House.  H.R. 3654, which I introduced on Aug. 15, 2017 and as of this writing is co-sponsored by 71 members, insulates the special counsel and the integrity of the investigation from the whims of this president by requiring that the special counsel may be removed only where the following conditions are met: 

  1. The attorney general files an action in federal district court in Washington, D.C., and files a contemporaneous action with the House Judiciary Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee; and
  1. A panel of three federal judges sitting in Washington, D.C., finds removal appropriate based on a finding of misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity, conflict of interest or other good cause. 

Bipartisan companion legislation has already been introduced in the Senate as S.1735 by Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSenate panel advances three spending bills Trump says he will sign executive order to end family separations Trump backs narrow bill halting family separations: official MORE (R-S.C.) and Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerDem presidential hopefuls seize on Trump border policy To strengthen our democracy, we need to remove obstacles that keep students from voting Members of Congress demand new federal gender pay audit MORE (D-NJ). Although other legislative proposals have been introduced, none has the broad level of support enjoyed by H.R. 3654, which has the singular advantage of placing the burden on the attorney general of producing the evidence and persuading a three-judge federal district court panel that grounds exists to remove the special counsel for misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity, conflict of interest, or other good cause. This means that should the president or his attorney general move to replace the special counsel, the status quo will be maintained and the investigation will continue unless and until the federal judiciary sanctions the removal of the special counsel.

Those of us who value the rule of law must stand tall to attempts to politicize credible investigations.  Yet, the current GOP leadership in the Congress appears willing to cross two lines, heretofore considered sacrosanct.  First, the GOP appears at ease with undermining law and order as evidenced by its fealty and blind support for a president who volleys constant—and unprecedented—attacks on the Department of Justice, the FBI and our intelligence community.  Second, the GOP is willfully ignoring the clarion call of misconduct emanating from this White House, and in the process is creating a permission structure within which this president may feel free to continue obstructing justice.

Recent media reports suggest that Special Counsel Mueller has subpoenaed documents and financial records from Deutsche Bank, a financial institution with longstanding ties to the Trump Organization and the Trump Family. Deutsche Bank has a long history of laundering money for Russian oligarchs. In July, 2017, in an interview with the New York Times, the president indicated that if Mr. Mueller’s investigation examined Mr. Trump’s personal finances, or that of his business, and if such an examination was unrelated to Russia, that this would constitute a “violation” of Mr. Mueller’s mandate.

After Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, the president responded on Twitter stating in part, “I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI.  He has pled guilty to those lies.  It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful.  There was nothing to hide.” This prompted widespread speculation that the president committed obstruction of justice in asking former Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyGrassley wants to subpoena Comey, Lynch after critical IG report The media just can't stop lying about Trump The Hill's 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines – First lady makes surprise visit to migrant children at border MORE to drop the FBI’s investigation into Lt. Gen. Flynn and raised concerns that the president may move to fire Special Counsel Mueller. After the president tweeted, his personal lawyer advanced the long discredited claim that the President of the United States is constitutionally incapable of obstructing justice.

For over a year, the country has watched as this president has aided and abetted in the erosion of public confidence in our nation’s law enforcement institutions.  Worse still, he has done this all to protect himself and his family.  While the full breadth and depth of any presidential wrongdoing may not be known for some time, two things are known: first, over many instances during the last year, the president has used the levers of his office to subvert a credible investigation into his personal misconduct, including firing the FBI director, and attempting to fire the special counsel tasked to take over the investigation after Mr. Comey was relieved of duty.  And, second, the need to protect the investigation has never been more important so that the country can learn exactly what transpired in the 2016 election and the days, weeks and months that followed and hold those responsible accountable. 

Jackson Lee represents Texas’s 18th District and is the ranking member of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations.