GOP leaders are unified: Firing Mueller a bad idea

Republicans on Capitol Hill have a unified message for President Trump: Don’t fire Robert Mueller.

A close friend of Trump, Chris Ruddy, said in separate interviews Monday and Tuesday that the president is considering terminating Mueller, the special counsel leading the FBI’s investigation into possible ties between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.

But congressional GOP leaders are urging Trump to allow Mueller to conduct his probe without White House interference so the president can be “vindicated.”

And some rank-and-file Republicans said ousting Mueller one month after Trump fired then-FBI Director James Comey would appear to be a case of obstruction of justice and could risk the entire Trump presidency.

“I think it’s a form of political suicide. If you fire one guy, then you fire another, all of a sudden it begins to look like you’re trying to hide something, look like you have a reason to want the investigations to go away,” Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.), who has criticized Trump at times, told The Hill on Tuesday.

“It doesn’t pass the smell test. ... I think people would go nuts,” Sanford added.

Mueller, himself a former FBI director, has built a sterling reputation in Washington as a serious, straight-shooting investigator who works above the political fray. Indeed, before he was tapped as the special counsel in the Russia probe, Mueller was reportedly on Trump’s shortlist to replace Comey atop the FBI.

In his new role, however, Mueller has quickly become the target of some Republicans, who are suddenly questioning his credibility because of his close relationship with Comey and the team he is assembling.

Former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) this week raised questions about the fairness and impartiality of the Mueller-led investigation. Gingrich said it’s “time to rethink” Mueller’s role given that at least four members of Mueller’s team have donated to Democratic presidential campaigns and groups.

The top two GOP leaders on Capitol Hill — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSunk judicial pick spills over into Supreme Court fight Hillicon Valley: Trump's Russia moves demoralize his team | Congress drops effort to block ZTE deal | Rosenstein warns of foreign influence threat | AT&T's latest 5G plans On The Money: Trump 'ready' for tariffs on all 0B in Chinese goods | Trump digs in on Fed criticism | Lawmakers drop plans to challenge Trump ZTE deal MORE (R-Ky.) and Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanInterior fast tracks study of drilling's Arctic impact: report Dems unveil slate of measures to ratchet up pressure on Russia National Dems make play in Ohio special election MORE (R-Wis.) — wouldn’t comment on Mueller’s team but praised Mueller himself.

“I have a lot of confidence in Bob Mueller. I think it was a good choice,” McConnell told reporters.

At a news conference Tuesday, Ryan grew frustrated at having to answer so many questions about what he called media-generated “rumors” that Mueller could soon be ousted. But the Speaker made clear he believed Trump should not interfere with the FBI probe.

“I think the best thing to do is to let Robert Mueller do his job. I think the best vindication for the president is to let this investigation go on independent and thoroughly,” Ryan said. “That to me is the smartest thing to do, the best thing to do, hopefully it will happen.”

Senate Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump and Congress at odds over Russia Senate GOP attempts to wave Trump off second Putin summit Senators push to clear backlog in testing rape kits MORE (R-Texas), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee who launched a separate Russia investigation, was asked if he has seen anything that might warrant Trump firing Mueller.  “I've seen no reason for that,” Cornyn told reporters.

Asked if he trusts Mueller to run the FBI investigation, Cornyn replied: “I do.” 

Democratic leaders are thrilled to have Mueller conducting the Department of Justice probe and are eagerly awaiting the conclusions. But some rank-and-file members have escalated their calls for ousting Trump, and Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) on Monday introduced an article of impeachment accusing the president of obstructing justice in the act of firing Comey.

Sherman, at the moment, is the lone lawmaker to endorse that proposal. But other Democrats, who are highly critical of Trump, said the surest way to get them on board would be the termination of Mueller.

“I dare him to do it,” said Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), perhaps Trump’s most vocal detractor on Capitol Hill.

“If he fires Mueller, he’s going to upset this country in a way that he, perhaps, does not understand,” she added. “He has already gone much too far, created much too much distrust, and this would be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.”

Rep. Al GreenAlexander (Al) N. GreenTom Steyer compares movement to impeach Trump to civil rights movement Juan Williams: Midterms will be referendum on Trump Dem lawmaker: We will impeach Trump if we retake the House MORE (D-Texas), who is eying his own articles of impeachment, sounded a similar alarm this week, saying any move by Trump to curtail Mueller’s task would “validate the reasons why he should be impeached” and lead Green to force a floor vote on ousting Trump.

Even some of Trump’s closest GOP allies on the Hill say it’d be unwise to remove Mueller in such a public fashion, though they don’t think the investigation itself has much merit.

Politically, I think it’s difficult for the president to fire him, but I don’t know what the heck the guy is going to do. There is no purpose any longer unless he is going to find out more about Susan Rice unmasking issues and potential obstruction from [former Attorney General] Loretta Lynch,” Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) told The Hill.

“The fact that Russia tried to influence our election, that’s barely news. They’ve been doing that for years and decades,” Cramer continued. “To spend a bunch of people’s money and anxiety for a media-frenzy soap opera is not a great idea.”

Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.), another Trump defender and member of the Oversight Committee, called the possibility of collusion between the Trump campaign officials and the Russians “a farce.”

“I don’t think there is any evidence of obstruction of justice. Trump is guilty of being Trump in the way that he talks,” DesJarlais said, downplaying Comey’s testimony last week that he felt the president was directing him to halt his FBI probe into Trump campaign adviser Michael Flynn’s undisclosed contact with the Russians.

Rep. Robert AderholtRobert Brown AderholtForcing faith-based agencies out of the system is a disservice to women Excluding faith-based providers harms kids by cutting off agencies that can help them House panel moves to protect 'religious conviction' of adoption agencies MORE (R-Ala.), who advised candidate Trump on agriculture issues, said axing Mueller now would be “too premature.” But he said things could change if more evidence comes out that Mueller is simply on a “witch hunt.”

Aderholt shared Gingrich’s concerns that some of Mueller’s team had contributed in the past to Democrats, including Trump’s 2016 rival Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBernie Sanders: Trump 'so tough' on child separations but not on Putin Anti-Trump protests outside White House continue into fifth night Opera singers perform outside White House during fourth day of protests MORE.

“Clearly, some of the attorneys that he picked are clearly in the Clinton camp. I’m not sure he should have done that,” Aderholt said in an interview just off the House floor. “When you see someone who’s been in the Clinton camp who were big donors to Clinton who are going to be doing the investigation … I would look for somebody who was maybe — that was out of the political scene.”

Cristina Marcos and Jordain Carney contributed.