Backed into a corner by Robert Mueller, the indefatigable special counsel who’s looking into Russiagate, the Trump family’s finances, and Trump’s possible efforts to obstruct justice, the president is lashing out. In the past few weeks, especially since mid-July, Trump, along with his lawyers and key conservative allies, launched a barrage of attacks aimed at discrediting Mueller, possibly as a prelude to having him fired.
But at the same time, while Mueller maintains complete radio silence, others have spoken out strongly in his defense—including, as it turns out, a growing number of Republicans.
In Congress, remarkably, several Republican senators have joined with their Democratic colleagues to propose legislation restricting Trump’s ability to oust Mueller. One pair is made up of Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Chris Coons (D-DE), and another is from Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Cory Booker (D-NJ). Both pieces of legislation would do essentially the same thing: Were Trump to ask the Justice Department to fire Mueller, that decision would have to be reviewed by a three-judge panel. Appearing on Fox News Sunday on August 6, Tillis was asked if his proposed bill was aimed squarely at Trump. “There’s no question that it is,” said Tillis. “I don’t believe the investigation is a witch hunt.” Graham, for his part, said that it “could be the beginning of the end” for Trump’s presidency were he to fire Mueller.
Rich Lowry, the conservative editor of National Review, appearing on the same Fox News Sunday broadcast, warned the president in the strongest possible terms that purging Mueller would not be a good idea. “President Trump needs to realize, if he fires Robert Mueller, there’s some significant chance that eventually Mueller will be the lead witness in his impeachment hearing,” said Lowry. Those, of course, would be impeachment proceedings carried out by a Republican-led House of Representatives.
In another remarkable move, Senate Republicans united to prevent Trump from firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions and installing a replacement as a “recess appointment” that wouldn’t require confirmation by the Senate. They did so by setting up a procedure under which the Senate would not formally recess during the August break.
Senator Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, added for good measure that there was “no way” that the Senate would consider confirming a new AG if Sessions were fired. That’s important, because Trump cannot fire Mueller himself but would have to ask the Justice Department to do it. Sessions has recused himself from Russiagate, thanks to his still unexplained meetings with Russia’s ambassador to the United States, so he can’t do the firing, and Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein has pretty much said he won’t do it.