Thursday, March 22, 2018

Congress must stop Trump from firing Mueller -- March 22, 2018 column


Why does he act so guilty? What does he have to hide? What does Vladimir Putin have on him?

Those are questions being raised by Republicans as well as Democrats as President Donald Trump seems poised to end special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian tampering in the 2016 election. 

“When you are innocent . . . act like it,” Rep. Trey Gowdy, Republican of South Carolina, urged the president Sunday on “Fox News Sunday.”

“If you’ve done nothing wrong, you should want the investigation to be as fulsome and thorough as possible,” said Gowdy, a member of the House Intelligence Committee.  

Sen. Lindsey Graham warned firing Mueller would “probably” be an impeachable offense. Graham should know. He was one of the House managers of the impeachment case against President Bill Clinton in 1998. 

If Trump were to fire Mueller, “I can’t see it being anything other than a corrupt purpose,” Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said Tuesday on the Hugh Hewitt radio show.

Sen. John McCain, Republican of Arizona, tweeted: “Special Counsel Mueller has served our country with honesty and integrity. It is critical he be allowed to complete a thorough investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election – unimpeded.”

Fine words. Now it’s time for Congress to pass stalled legislation to protect the work of special counsels, including Mueller.

Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee voted Thursday to release, after classified material is redacted, their report that there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians, a finding they announced March 13. Democrats on the committee strongly oppose release, saying Republicans ended the investigation prematurely.

Until now, many GOP members of Congress have said legislation to protect special counsels was unnecessary because Trump would never fire Mueller.

But Trump is reshaping his legal team, hiring Joseph diGenova, a former U.S. attorney who claims the FBI and Justice Department framed Trump. And last weekend Trump launched tweets attacking Mueller personally.

“The Mueller probe should never have been started in that there was no collusion and there was no crime,” he tweeted. The Mueller probe is “a total WITCH HUNT with massive conflicts of interest!”

John Dowd, Trump’s personal attorney, said Saturday it was time to shut down the Mueller probe, although he later claimed he was only speaking for himself. He resigned Thursday, reportedly because Trump was ignoring his advice.

White House lawyer Ty Cobb said in a statement Sunday: “The White House yet again confirms that the president is not considering or discussing the firing” of Mueller.

But Trump’s calling out Mueller by name was a barrage too far. The timing was also suspect, coming just after Mueller reportedly subpoenaed financial records of the Trump Organization.

“Unfortunately, the statements and actions from the president and his lawyer over the weekend have led me to believe that the special counsel is now at real, immediate risk of being removed, and I believe the Senate needs to pass legislation to ensure that does not happen,” Sen. Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat and cosponsor of a bipartisan bill with Sen. Thom Tillis, a North Carolina Republican, said Monday.

The Special Counsel Integrity Act would create a judicial review process to prevent the removal of special counsels without good cause.

Another bill, the Special Counsel Independence Protection Act, would permit the firing of a special counsel only if a federal court found “misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity, conflict of interest, or other good cause for removal.”

Introduced by Graham in the Senate, it has three Democratic cosponsors, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.

Companion bills for both bills have been introduced in the House. One bill by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, Democrat of Texas, has 130 cosponsors, all Democrats, including Reps. A. Donald McEachin and Don Beyer of Virginia.

The bills had hearings in the respective Judiciary committees but are stalled.

Trump seems eager to shut Mueller down or at least to discredit his findings. Republicans as well as Democrats say Mueller should be allowed to complete his investigation.

Members of Congress must do their work so Mueller can do his.

© 2018 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

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