Promoting a piece from a far-right pundit yesterday, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said yesterday that Special Counsel Robert Mueller "has got some explaining to do." It was a timely reminder that when it comes to the Trump-Russia scandal, many Republicans have begun turning their fire, not on the White House or its benefactors in Putin's government, but on the official overseeing the investigation.
GOP members of the House Judiciary Committee, for example, appeared desperate last week to tear Mueller down. Several congressional Republicans have also called for Mueller's resignation. Conservative media, meanwhile, has become almost hysterical in targeting the special counsel, eager to discredit the entire probe.
Clearly, Mueller's investigation is causing some of Donald Trump's allies to panic, and their fears are well grounded. It's hardly unreasonable to think the Russia scandal poses an existential threat to this presidency -- a threat made more potent following the arrests of Trump's former national security advisor, campaign chairman, and others.
The Washington Post's E.J. Dionne today touched on a question that too often goes unasked.
Because we are inured to extreme partisanship and to the political right's habit of rejecting inconvenient facts, we risk overlooking the profound political crisis that a Trumpified Republican Party could create. And the conflagration may come sooner rather than later, as Mueller zeroes in on Trump and his inner circle.Only recently, it was widely assumed that if Trump fired Mueller, many Republicans would rise up to defend our institutions. Now, many in the party are laying the groundwork for justifying a coverup. This is a recipe for lawlessness.
There was a point earlier this year in which Mueller, a Republican and a former FBI director, received bipartisan praise. With him at the helm, the political establishment declared in unison, there was reason to feel confidence in the integrity of the investigation.
But as the threats to Trump's presidency have grown more serious, so too has the GOP's willingness to attack Mueller. Trump's conservative media allies have begun practically begging the president to fire the special counsel before Mueller brings down the White House.
So what happens if he does?
Trump, by his own admission, already fired a sitting FBI director in order to help derail the investigation into the Russia scandal. At the urging of his far-right allies, the president may very well consider doing the same thing with Mueller in order to, as Trump put it to Russian officials, relieve the "pressure" of the scandal.
Greg Sargent had a good piece on this last week, explaining that every congressional Republican should go on the record responding to a straightforward question: "If President Trump tries to remove special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, would you view that as an impeachable offense?"
There's nothing rhetorical about this. The White House hasn't hinted that Mueller's ouster is on the table, but Trump has warned about various "red lines" that he expects the special counsel to honor. That was before congressional Republicans and the GOP's media allies began characterizing Mueller as Public Enemy #1.
When Nixon pulled his Saturday Night Massacre and fired the official overseeing the Watergate scandal, it was the beginning of the end of his presidency. It's in the public's interest to know whether Trump would face a similar fate under similar circumstances, or whether Congress' Republican majority would applaud the radical escalation.