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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 ConwayWomen set to take key roles in Biden administration Lara Trump mulling 2022 Senate run in North Carolina: report Press: Where is Jim Baker when we need him? 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 (Bob) MuellerBarr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel CNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting 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 TrumpBiden says GOP senators have called to congratulate him Biden: Trump attending inauguration is 'of consequence' to the country Biden says family will avoid business conflicts 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 SessionsTime to bring federal employees home for every holiday Alabama zeroes in on Richard Shelby's future Tuberville incorrectly says Gore was president-elect in 2000 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 GrassleyGrassley suggests moderate Democrats for next Agriculture secretary Democrats eye Dec. 11 exit for House due to COVID-19 A need for reauthorization of the Elder Justice Act MORE (R-Iowa) and John CornynJohn CornynThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Capital One — Pressure builds as UK approves COVID-19 vaccine Biden brushes off criticism of budget nominee Republican frustration builds over Cabinet picks 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 GrahamDespite veto threat, Congress presses ahead on defense bill GOP urges Trump not to tank defense bill over tech fight Republican frustration builds over Cabinet picks MORE (R-S.C.), Thom Tills (R-N.C.), Chris CoonsChris Andrew CoonsThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - GOP angst in Georgia; confirmation fight looms Overnight Health Care: Moderna to apply for emergency use authorization for COVID-19 vaccine candidate | Hospitals brace for COVID-19 surge | US more than doubles highest number of monthly COVID-19 cases Bipartisan Senate group holding coronavirus relief talks amid stalemate MORE (D-Del.), and Cory BookerCory BookerBiden budget pick sparks battle with GOP Senate Policy center calls for new lawmakers to make diverse hires Dangerously fast slaughter speeds are putting animals, people at greater risk during COVID-19 crisis 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.