Mueller’s investigation is closing in on Trump. Congress must protect him | Max Bergmann and Max Boot
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Mueller is coming.
The investigation into Trump campaign coordination with Russia appears to be closing in on the president. The three indictments earlier this month of Trump campaign chairman, Paul Manafort; his deputy, Rick Gates; and foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos show that Robert Mueller is inside Trump’s campaign. The indictment and plea agreement of former national security adviser Michael Flynn now puts the investigation into the White House.
In most circumstances, arresting the president’s campaign chairman and his national security adviser, one of the most important positions in the entire government, would be seen as the culmination of a successful investigation. But what’s clear is that neither Flynn, nor Manafort, is the target of Mueller’s work.
As anyone who watches Law and Order knows, prosecutors offer a plea deal in order to get information and build a case against someone higher up in the food chain. If Flynn does strike a plea agreement, there is logically only one person that Mueller would be interested in striking a deal over: the president.
The walls are therefore closing in on Trump. But the closer Mueller gets to Trump, the likelier it is that Trump will act to try to end his investigation. Ask yourself this: if you committed a crime and had one of the nation’s top cops coming for you, wouldn’t you try anything, no matter how risky, to get out of it? The same circumstances led Richard Nixon to commit the Saturday night massacre.
There are already warning signs that Trump is laying ground work to act against Mueller’s investigation. Following Flynn’s indictment, Trump lashed out against the FBI and Mueller. His allies are now trying to attack the investigation’s credibility, claiming political bias and calling for it to be defunded.
The far-right media echo chamber, including many Republican congressmen, have launched a campaign against Mueller’s credibility. A Republican member of Congress is even seeking to strip the investigation of its funding.
This comes on the heels of a week of rapid fire distractions and jaw dropping comments from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave: using “Pocahontas” as a slur; retweeting racist websites and tweets; and picking fights with the UK prime minister. Additionally, there are reports that Trump’s lawyer Ty Cobb has told him the investigation will be wrapped up by the end of the year – and if it isn’t, he’ll go ballistic.
We are headed for a collision. Congress needs to act now to protect the Mueller investigation, head off a crisis, and make clear that the president is not above the law.
Fortunately, members of Congress on both sides of the aisle are currently crafting legislation designed to deter Mueller from being fired. While this legislation is far from a panacea, it will help to tie Trump’s hands. But most importantly, it would send a signal to the country that the that the rule of law reigns supreme.
Whether or not this legislation makes it to the floor for a vote depends on Republican congressional leaders. Some in Congress say the legislation is unnecessary; if Mueller is fired, there will be bipartisan support on the Hill for action.
But the point is to stop the crisis before it starts. It’s not enough to let Trump act as a petty dictator and then try to pick up the pieces only after he destroys our democratic norms. Congress needs to be clear now that firing Mueller is unacceptable and un-American – we’re a nation of laws, laws that no one is above.
Failing to protect Mueller is not just moral cowardice, it’s also leaving America’s national security exposed. His investigation is uncovering details about how a foreign adversary intervened in our democratic process and whether it holds sway over high-ranking government officials. This was an attack on our sovereignty and an effort to undermine a key pillar of America’s global strength: America as a symbol of democracy, freedom, and the rule of law.
If we fail to get to the bottom of what happened, and to hold those responsible to account, then the Kremlin will not just have succeeded in undermining our democratic process but in undermining American justice. American weakness in the face of aggression will only ensure that we are attacked again, and may embolden other foreign adversaries like China, Iran and North Korea to do the same. Americans will be left wondering whose interests our government is really serving: ours, or those of foreign adversaries.
This is why we, one conservative and one liberal, we have come together to urge Congress to pass legislation to protect the Mueller investigation: one of us worked for John McCain and Mitt Romney, and one for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. We have been on the opposite sides of countless foreign policy and political debates. But we have put aside political differences, because ensuring American self-governance is too important.
We hope that those in Congress can follow suit.
- Max Bergmann is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, he served in the state department from 2011-2017. Max Boot is a senior fellow at the council on foreign relations and a former foreign policy adviser to John McCain, Mitt Romney and Marco Rubio.