Months ago, the Senate Judiciary Committee reviewed, discussed, and passed bipartisan legislation that would protect Special Counsel Mueller from a politically-motivated firing. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, however, refuses to let the legislation come up for a vote in the full Senate.
Now, House Democrats are trying a different tactic.
They plan to bring up their own Mueller protection legislation for discussion in the House Judiciary Committee. In order to force their Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., to allow the conversation, however, they need just three Republicans to vote with them.
Three Republican votes. Not to pass the legislation, or even to move it out of committee. Just three votes to even talk about it.
Their timing couldn’t be better. In a Tuesday morning interview, President Trump suggested that his recent declassification of specific pages of the Carter Page FISA paperwork and text message records from civil servants in law enforcement will lead to the exposure of the Russia investigation as a great “hoax” - an achievement, he said, that would rank among the greatest in his presidency.
Never mind that House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., already tried to prove the claims that the president is espousing, only to end up verifying the opposite. (That is, that Page was a surveillance subject for suspicious activities well before the campaign, and that the Fusion GPS dossier was not, in fact, the primary driver behind the Trump-Russia investigation.) Never mind that the select declassification of individual pages of a document will surely tell a cherry-picked, partial story. And never mind that having more text messages floating out in the discourse (likely without context) will fuel the president’s authoritarian tendency to attack individual citizens of our democracy from the bully pulpit of the president.
What this declassification action will do is fuel the president’s ire against Special Counsel Mueller. And that ire will only grow more volatile as whatever half-baked conclusions he reaches are reinforced in his mind by a chorus of sympathizers and supporters repeating them on Fox News. Will it be enough to cause Trump to fire the special counsel and set off a constitutional crisis? Perhaps, though hopefully not. But the president’s increasingly open loathing and slander against Mueller in recent months make it a possibility we cannot dismiss.
Three Republican votes on the House Judiciary Committee are all we need to simply have a mere conversation about possibly taking proactive action against such a catastrophe.
Other Republicans have already called for such legislation in addition to those on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Five House Republicans signed onto their own variant of the Mueller protection bill back in April of 2017; another co-sponsored a similar piece of legislation with a Democrat. Many - all the way up to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan - have expressed their agreement with the majority of the American people that the special counsel should be able to continue his investigation to its conclusion.
These sentiments are critical, but they are not enough. It is time for action.
It is time for just three Republican members of the House Judiciary Committee to join their Democratic colleagues, put country above party, and demand the opportunity to at least discuss this problem and a potential solution. There is no denying that there may be a political cost for them to do so in the present, but it could well save us all some more significant pain in the near future.
Graham F. West is the Communications Director for Truman Center for National Policy and Truman National Security Project, though views expressed here are his own. You can reach West at firstname.lastname@example.org.