During a Monday morning interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo, White House counselor Kellyanne ConwayKellyanne ConwayEthics watchdog accuses Psaki of violating Hatch Act Biden administration competency doubts increase Cook Political Report shifts Virginia governor's race to 'toss-up' 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) MuellerSenate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel MORE’s investigation will ultimately imperil the Trump presidency. But it's clear that firing him — or Rosenstein — would.
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 TrumpMcAuliffe takes tougher stance on Democrats in Washington Democrats troll Trump over Virginia governor's race Tom Glavine, Ric Flair, Doug Flutie to join Trump for Herschel Walker event 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 SessionsTrump criticizes Justice for restoring McCabe's benefits McCabe wins back full FBI pension after being fired under Trump Overnight Hillicon Valley — Apple issues security update against spyware vulnerability 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 GrassleyChuck GrassleyFill the Eastern District of Virginia On The Money — Progressives play hard ball on Biden budget plan Hillicon Valley — Presented by LookingGlass — Congress makes technology policy moves MORE (R-Iowa) and John CornynJohn CornynCornyn raises more than M for Senate GOP Is the Biden administration afraid of trade? The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - After high drama, Senate lifts debt limit 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 GrahamSenators preview bill to stop tech giants from prioritizing their own products Democrats fret as longshot candidates pull money, attention Tim Scott takes in .3 million in third quarter MORE (R-S.C.), Thom Tills (R-N.C.), Chris CoonsChris Andrew CoonsDefense & National Security — Military starts giving guidance on COVID-19 vaccine refusals Blinken pressed to fill empty post overseeing 'Havana syndrome' Who is afraid of the EU's carbon border adjustment plan? MORE (D-Del.), and Cory BookerCory BookerDefense & National Security — Military starts giving guidance on COVID-19 vaccine refusals Senators preview bill to stop tech giants from prioritizing their own products Blinken pressed to fill empty post overseeing 'Havana syndrome' 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.