Thursday, April 12, 2018

GOPlins split over need for legislative protection for Mueller. Is a 3rd attempt to fire Mueller imminent?

Daily Kos writer Laura Clawson reports that Senator sounds the alarm, demands Senate Judiciary Committee move on bill to protect Mueller ‘NOW’.

This should not be newsworthy, but it is: a Republican senator—one of them—is calling on the Senate Judiciary Committee to pass a bill protecting special counsel Robert Mueller from unilateral firing:

North Carolina’s Thom Tillis is one of the bill’s co-sponsors, and late last month he and Democratic co-sponsor Chris Coons issued a joint statement calling for the Judiciary Committee to take up the bill, saying “This should not be a partisan issue.”

Burgess Everett tweeted “Sen. Tillis says he wants the Judiciary Commitee to approve his bill to protect the special counsel NOW”

But we can see from the fact that Tillis is in such a distinct minority in his party calling for Mueller’s independence to be protected that it is a partisan issue—because Republicans are making it so. And the reasons for that, while not exactly secret, deserve a lot more attention than they’re getting.

Jennifer Rubin (Washington Post/Right Turn) files this related report: Just in time: A new Republican group seeks to protect Mueller.

Their timing could not be better. A day after reports surfaced that President Trump wanted to fire special counsel Robert S. Mueller III in December (in addition to an earlier effort in June), five veteran Republicans have formed a new organization, Republicans for the Rule of Law, seeking to restrain the president from doing exactly that. Bill Kristol (editor at large for the Weekly Standard), Mona Charen (a veteran of the Ronald Reagan administration who recently made a splash at the Conservative Political Action Conference), Linda Chavez (another Reagan administration veteran), Sarah Longwell (a longtime GOP consultant and chairman of the Log Cabin Republicans) and Andy Zwick (executive director of the Foundation for Constitutional Government) launched the group. The following ad touting Mueller’s background and GOP ties aired on Fox News’s “Fox & Friends” and MSNBC’s “Morning Joe“:

Check out the video clip in Rubin’s article.

The group also released a Web ad quoting President Ronald Reagan extolling the rule of law.

The group is concerned about protecting Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, too. Trump reportedly was ruminating about firing him, a move that would be just as alarming as firing Mueller. Rosenstein’s replacement, at the behest of Trump, might seek to limit the scope of Mueller’s investigation or force it to wrap up prematurely. Longwell tells me, “Any attempt to interfere in the special counsel’s investigation by firing a key official —whether Mueller, Rosenstein, or [Attorney General] Jeff Sessions — would be extremely damaging and not only to the rule of law, but also to the Republican Party and to Trump’s presidency.” She adds, “Such a move would further imperil vulnerable Republicans in November and completely derail the Republican policy agenda for the rest of 2018.”

We are now closer to a constitutional crisis than at any point in the Trump presidency. More unhinged, exposed and isolated than ever, Trump may very well decide to fire Justice Department officials to protect his hide, thereby spelling the end of his presidency. Kristol says, “Here’s what I’d say to the president: There’s no cause to fire anyone at Justice. Spend your time weakening America’s enemies abroad, not undermining the rule of law at home.” Now would be a good time for Republicans in Congress and around the country to make clear that firing Mueller, Sessions or Rosenstein would be politically fatal.

But will they do it?

The thing is, Republican leaders dismiss Trump’s words about firing Mueller, Rosenstein et al. are just bluster and thereby dismiss calls for legislative protection. However, Trump ‘believes’ he can fire Mueller (and he’s taken steps to do so) observes Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog).

Donald Trump caused a bit of a stir late Monday afternoon, publicly speculating about firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Whether the president has the legal authority to do so directly, however, is a subject of some debate.

And yet, there was White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders telling reporters yesterday that Trump “certainly believes he has the power” to oust the special counsel.

(He means Sarah Suckabee Handers.)

… the president has already reportedly taken steps to fire Mueller. The New York Times reported overnight:

In early December, President Trump, furious over news reports about a new round of subpoenas from the office of the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, told advisers in no uncertain terms that Mr. Mueller’s investigation had to be shut down.

The president’s anger was fueled by reports that the subpoenas were for obtaining information about his business dealings with Deutsche Bank, according to interviews with eight White House officials, people close to the president and others familiar with the episode. To Mr. Trump, the subpoenas suggested that Mr. Mueller had expanded the investigation in a way that crossed the “red line” he had set last year in an interview with The New York Times.

If this sounds at all familiar, it’s because this wasn’t the first time. We learned last year that the president also called for Mueller’s ouster in June, but he backed down when White House Counsel Don McGahn threatened to resign. Similarly, Trump was talked out of acting in December.

But if the reports are accurate, the political world shouldn’t just shrug its shoulders. A variety of Republican senators argued yesterday, for example, that there’s no need to approve legislation to shield the special counsel from White House interference. Trump may huff and puff, GOP lawmakers argued, but there’s little to suggest he’d follow through.

Except we keep confronting evidence to the contrary, suggesting the party’s wishful thinking may be naive.

Or willful disregard. The NBC News report cited by Benen reports:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday he hadn’t “seen clear indication yet that we have to pass something to keep him from being removed, because I don’t think that’s going to happen.” Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., the Senate Republican Conference chairman, agreed: “I don’t know that us legislating on that is the right path forward.”

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, asked if legislation is necessary to prevent Mueller from being dismissed, said “no, because I don’t think the president’s going to do it — and do you think the president would sign that legislation?”

And so, by failing to exercise their powers as a separate branch of government, the Republicans move us one step closer to a very real constitutional crisis.

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