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EDITORIAL: What are GOP leaders waiting for?
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would make a lousy dairy farmer, insisting, as he has this past week, that there’s no reason to close the barn door until after the cow gets out.
It’s also why he makes a pretty lousy Senate majority leader.
The cow in this case, is President Donald Trump — or, more accurately, the increasingly real possibility that Trump will attempt to thwart the ongoing special counsel investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Trump has reportedly been seething since the FBI on Monday raided the home and office of his personal attorney, Michael Cohen.
The barn door, of course, is legislation that would protect that investigation, which is also looking into possible collusion from the Trump campaign, as well as obstruction of justice by the president himself. But while his Senate colleagues, even some among his own party, are working frantically to close that door, McConnell is content to leave it wiiiiiiiide open.
When asked this week about legislation to protect special counsel Robert Mueller’s work, the Kentucky Republican was decidedly unperturbed.
“I haven’t seen a clear indication yet that we needed to pass something to keep him from being removed because I don't think that’s going to happen,” he told reporters. “And that remains my view.”
What kind of “clear indication” is McConnell waiting for? Mueller’s head on a stick?
Trump has all but wielded one of those life-sized vaudeville hooks in his recent references to the special counsel. He is openly toying, yet again, with the idea of firing Mueller. And White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders has confirmed he believes he has the power to do so. (That’s far from certain, but Trump’s beliefs, fixated as they are on fantasies like record-setting inauguration crowds and global-warming hoaxes, are seldom burdened by reality.)
The president has been no less transparent about his desire to deep-six Department of Justice officials he believes are perpetuating the probe. He is reportedly setting his sights on Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who does have the authority to fire Mueller (because Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself in the Russian probe, a move for which he too might yet face the presidential chopping block).
With Rosenstein ousted, the thinking goes, a new deputy attorney general could move to constrain or even terminate the Russia probe.
The American people have a right to know what happened during the 2016 election — primarily so steps can be taken to prevent, or at least guard against, future such efforts. The investigation must not be diminished or derailed.
Fortunately, there are those in the Senate who share that view. A bipartisan handful of senators is pushing legislation that would help protect the Mueller investigation from presidential interference.
According to the Associated Press: “Legislation offered on Wednesday by Republicans Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Democrats Chris Coons of Delaware and Cory Booker of New Jersey would give any special counsel a 10-day window to seek expedited judicial review of a firing.”
The measure would be a reasonable safeguard against the growing concern on Capitol Hill that Trump will indeed act to impede the investigation.
But for it to succeed, McConnell and his House counterpart, Speaker Paul Ryan, must share that concern. Ryan, who announced plans to retire on Wednesday, has shown even less interest in curtailing potential presidential overreach regarding the Russia probe than McConnell.
And yes, we understand the president would never sign such a bill; still, a strong congressional vote on the measure might forestall his rashness. (A veto override would defuse it altogether.)
Do not wait until it’s too late, Farmers McConnell, Ryan, et al. For the good of the Constitution, the rule of law, and your fellow Americans, shut the barn door.