EDITORIAL: GOP must protect Mueller probe

York Dispatch

In the wake of President Donald Trump’s increasingly volatile criticisms against special counsel Robert Mueller these past few days, congressional Republicans have been disappointingly docile.

More:A frustrated Trump lashes out at special counsel Mueller

They must quickly find their voice, and their spines, and act to prevent the unpredictable president from pulling the trigger on his veiled threats to fire the special prosecutor and ignite what could be a constitutional crisis.

Mueller, who is investigating Russian attempts to influence the 2016 presidential elections, has been inching closer to the president. Over the past two weeks he has subpoenaed business records related to Russia from the Trump Organization. He has also submitted written questions to the White House as part of negotiations for eventual questioning of Trump.

The president has taken none too kindly to either move.

After months of relative restraint, Trump exploded over the weekend with a series of inaccurate and immature messages on Twitter that sought to spread all manner of ill will toward Mueller and misinformation about the probe.

One representative sample: “The Mueller probe should never have been started in that there was no collusion and there was no crime. It was based on fraudulent activities and a Fake Dossier paid for by Crooked Hillary and the DNC, and improperly used in FISA COURT for surveillance of my campaign. WITCH HUNT!"

Where to start? The probe started months before the so-called Steele dossier came to the FBI’s attention. Trump’s campaign was never under surveillance (although former campaign aide Carter Paige was — after leaving the campaign). “No crime”? There are 19 people charged with crimes, including four former Trump campaign aides, three of whom have pleaded guilty.

Ah, but what do facts matter?

The president also took to Twitter to gloat over the firing of former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe less than two days before his retirement — and attendant pension benefits – would take effect.

More:Trump lauds firing of ex-top FBI official as ‘great day’

The tweetstorm led to very real fears that Trump might order Mueller fired — a move widely seen as likely to trigger a constitutional crisis of Nixonian proportions.

Yet the response among senior Republicans on Capitol Hill has been limited to wan warnings and toothless threats. A couple of senators have spoken out, but most, including Pennsylvania’s Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, have refused to weigh in.

That’s astounding — or, it would be were it not the characteristically quiet response from GOP office holders in the wake of their party leader’s continuously reckless behavior.

California Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, ranking minority member on the House Intelligence Committee, described the state of affairs aptly:

“I think one of the really sad realizations over the last year is not what kind of a president Donald Trump turns out to be — I think it was all too predictable — but rather, how many members of Congress would be unwilling to stand up to him, and more than that, would be completely willing to carry water for him,” he told Politico. “That is a very sad realization.”

Yes. Yes, it is.

If Republicans truly hold dear their nation, the Constitution and the rule of law, they need to act now, before the president once again flouts convention and common sense. They need to move to protect the independent counsel probe.

And they’ve got a convenient avenue for doing so: this week’s budget bill. Congress is facing a Friday deadline for finalizing the two-year spending package it agreed to in broad terms or, more likely, passing another temporary funding bill. Either measure could easily include language protecting the special counsel from presidential interference. And whichever one comes before lawmakers should.

The president has shown ad infinitum he respects neither probity or precedent. And his hiring this week of a Fox News-affiliated lawyer noted for his criticism of the FBI and the Justice Department reflects his continuing defiance.

Despite protestations by other White House attorneys that Trump is not contemplating dismissing Mueller, there is nothing in recent history that indicates anyone but the president knows exactly what the president will do.

More:White House says Trump isn’t considering firing Mueller

Do not be complicit in igniting a constitutional crisis, congressional Republicans. Take concrete steps to prevent this potential perversion of justice or be prepared to go down in history as appeasing the president who unleashed it.