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It's not too late for Congress to protect Mueller from Trump

Rod Rosenstein's fate may remain unclear, but the need to protect Robert Mueller couldn't be clearer.
Image: Senate Judiciary Committee
UNITED STATES - JUNE 19: FBI Director Robert Mueller testifies before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Dirksen Building on oversight of the FBI. ...

The political world experienced a small earthquake this morning in response to multiple reports that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein would soon part ways with the Trump administration, either by way of a resignation or a presidential firing. It now appears the uproar was premature: Rosenstein will meet with Donald Trump on Thursday.

But while the senior Justice Department official's fate remains unclear, the reason for this morning's tumult couldn't be more obvious: Rosenstein is, for all intents and purposes, Special Counsel Robert Mueller's superior in the investigation into the Russia scandal. Rosenstein's ouster would put the entire federal probe in jeopardy.

All of which renews interest in a familiar question: maybe Congress can take steps to protect Mueller? NBC News reported today:

As conflicting reports emerged concerning the fate of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on Monday, Democrats sounded the alarm about what his potential departure from the Department of Justice could mean for the Russia probe."Saturday Night Massacres don't need to happen on a Saturday," Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said on Twitter. "If President Trump fires DAG Rod Rosenstein or forces his resignation, he will come one giant leap closer to directly meddling with the Special Counsel's Russia investigation." [...]Leahy and other legislators on Monday called for the passage of bipartisan legislation designed to protect the special counsel's investigation. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., called for a vote to occur immediately. "We can no longer afford to wait," she wrote in a tweet.

A wide variety of House Democrats pushed a similar line.

It was five months ago when the Senate Judiciary Committee easily approved a bipartisan bill to protect Muller from White House interference. Soon after, Republican leaders ignored the proposal as if it didn't exist.

The typical response from GOP officials is that legislative protections for the special counsel are wholly unnecessary since there's so little chance of Trump taking steps to interfere with Mueller's probe.

Of course, many of those arguments were made before the White House condemned the special counsel's investigation as "corrupt," "illegal," and a "national disgrace."

Something Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in April continues to ring true: "Rather than waiting for a constitutional crisis, the full Senate should act now."

It's an important point. Republican leaders don't deny that it'd be a crisis for our legal system if Trump took aggressive steps to interfere with the Mueller probe, but they've convinced themselves that the president is unlikely to act, so legislative protections are unwarranted.

This morning's drama -- and the looming White House meeting on Thursday -- served as a reminder that the volatility level surrounding the Trump presidency remains alarmingly high. There's plenty of time for Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan to do the right thing. It's simply a matter of political will, which Republican leaders currently appear to lack.