The rule-of-law party must unite around Mueller

The rule-of-law party must unite around Mueller
© Greg Nash

During a Monday morning interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo, White House counselor Kellyanne ConwayKellyanne Elizabeth ConwayConservatives pound BuzzFeed, media over Cohen report Trump 2020 campaign manager hits George Conway: 'Think how bad of a husband you have to be' Trump’s polls sag amid wall fight MORE repeatedly declined to indicate whether or not Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein would be safe from termination. Her deflection is the latest in a series of half-answers as to whether those involved in the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election will be able to see their investigation though.   

It's unclear whether special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE’s investigation will ultimately imperil the Trump presidency. But it's clear that firing him — or Rosenstein — would. 

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To maintain the rule of law, protect the party, and even protect the president himself, Republicans must form a moat around Mueller to protect his investigation from presidential meddling. 

 

President TrumpDonald John TrumpSunday shows preview: Shutdown negotiations continue after White House immigration proposal Rove warns Senate GOP: Don't put only focus on base Ann Coulter blasts Trump shutdown compromise: ‘We voted for Trump and got Jeb!’ MORE's initial reaction to the raid last week on the office, home, and hotel room of his lawyer Michael Cohen brought renewed fears that he would try to fire Mueller or Rosenstein. , who supervises Mueller. Trump called the judge-sanctioned intrusion a "disgrace," a "pure and simple witch hunt," and asserted that "many people have said" he should fire Mueller. The New York Times also reported last week that Trump had sought to fire Mueller in December.

By week's end Trump's tone had moderated and it sounded as if he might be willing to let the investigation into possible Russian collusion in the 2016 election run its course. He tweeted, "I have agreed with the historically cooperative, disciplined approach that we have engaged in with Robert Mueller..." 

But given Trump's mercurial nature and his deep hostility to the investigation, his cooperation may only last until the next development that angers him. Or he could spare Mueller a direct firing and take a slightly longer route through Rosenstein or Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsOvernight Health Care: Thousands more migrant children may have been separated | Senate rejects bill to permanently ban federal funds for abortion | Women's March to lobby for 'Medicare for All' Acting AG Whitaker's wife defends him in lengthy email to journalist Watchdog: Thousands more migrant children separated from parents than previously known MORE.

But let's be clear: Firing Mueller, Rosenstein or Sessions would be a fundamental blow to the rule of law in the United States. It would resemble what happens in developing countries that lack checks and balances on executive power, and where leaders can depose those who threaten them. 

Trump should learn a lesson from President Richard Nixon, who in 1973 fired Archibald Cox, the special prosecutor investigating Watergate, in an attempt to curb or end that investigation. Instead, that move marked the beginning of the end of Nixon's presidency. An assault on the Mueller investigation would have the same disastrous outcome for Trump. 

Well-regarded lawyers from both parties have argued that firing Mueller would cause a constitutional crisis. Republicans, who have built a well-deserved reputation as the rule of law party, should lead in preserving the integrity of this independent investigation.

Beyond legal and constitutional considerations, it's in the political self-interest of Republicans to protect the special counsel’s investigation. Democratic enthusiasm is already at a record high, and Democrats are already outpolling Republicans in primary elections by 7 percentage points. A Quinnipiac poll released last week finds massive public opposition to firing Mueller — and that even Republicans oppose firing Mueller by more than a two-to-one margin. If Trump goes down that path, a standard first term congressional swing election would likely be transformed into a Democratic landslide. 

By protecting the Mueller investigation, Republicans are also protecting Trump from himself. While firing Mueller may please the Bannon base, it would erode Trump's support among thoughtful conservatives and independents he courted with his economic policies and judicial appointments.

Republicans can avoid these consequences by issuing explicit warnings that firing Mueller or Rosenstein would mean the immediate loss of their support. They should follow the lead of Sens. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyDem calls for Cohen to testify before Senate panel over explosive report Senate Republicans eye rules change to speed Trump nominees IRS shutdown plan fails to quell worries MORE (R-Iowa) and John CornynJohn CornynTrump tells GOP senators he’s sticking to Syria and Afghanistan pullout  Texas governor, top lawmakers tell Trump not to use hurricane relief funds to build border wall The Hill's Morning Report — Trump’s attorney general pick passes first test MORE (R-Texas) who said last week, "it would be suicide for the president to fire him," and "let Director Mueller do his job," respectively. 

For more protection, congressional Republicans should also support the special counsel Independence and Integrity Act, introduced last week by Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamTrump pitches new plan to reopen government amid Dem pushback Democrats signal they'll reject Trump shutdown proposal Dems revive impeachment talk after latest Cohen bombshell MORE (R-S.C.), Thom Tills (R-N.C.), Chris CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsOvernight Defense: Trump unveils new missile defense plan | Dems express alarm | Shutdown hits Day 27 | Trump cancels Pelosi foreign trip | Senators offer bill to prevent NATO withdrawal Bipartisan senators reintroduce bill to prevent Trump from withdrawing from NATO Sunday shows preview: Washington heads into multi-day shutdown MORE (D-Del.), and Cory BookerCory Anthony Booker2020 Democrats barnstorm the country for MLK weekend Ocasio-Cortez returns to 'The Late Show' on Monday We need action on personal cybersecurity MORE (D-N.J.). This legislation would stipulate Mueller's firing could only come at the hands of a senior Justice Department official and only for "good cause." 

For the sake of their enlightened self-interest and the country's well-being, it's time for Republicans to step up and unequivocally say: We are committed to the rule of law. Let the Mueller investigation, like every other duly constituted law enforcement action, run its course. 

Sarah Longwell is a director at Republicans for The Rule of Law and national chairman of the Log Cabin Republicans.