Mitch McConnell
Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Ever since Special Counsel Mueller was appointed, both Democrats and Republicans in Congress have stated their bipartisan support for his inquiry. President Trump has said that he would happily cooperate with and testify before the Special Counsel, despite public reports of his deep annoyance and warnings to the Mueller to limit his examinations strictly to Russian entanglement.

But there was always concern that at some point the President would grow fearful and desperate enough to attempt to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein (who directly oversees the Special Counsel) and any other officials required to forcefully bring Mueller’s inquiry to a halt, or at least saddle him with a new boss who would severely curtail his activities.

The Republican response to this concern has always been that there is no need to protect the Mueller inquiry, since there is no real danger of Trump seriously interfering with or firing Mueller. As Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on January 30th of this year:

“My understanding is there’s no effort under way to undermine or remove the special counsel. Therefore I don’t see any need to bring up legislation to protect someone who appears to need no protection.”

Well, the situation has changed. President Trump has, for the first time, named Robert Mueller explicitly in a tweet saying that the probe should be ended:

That Trump’s supposed understanding of the Mueller probe and its relationship to the Steele Dossier is wholly inaccurate doesn’t need repeating. Trump knows it. Both aisles of Congress know it, Devin Nunes’ antics notwithstanding. The American people who aren’t part of the deluded Fox News/Breibart flock know it.

Trump’s tweet isn’t the only threat. Earlier on Saturday Trump’s lawyer Andrew Dowd called on Attorney General Sessions to end the Mueller investigation. Amusingly, Dowd at first claimed to be acting on behalf of President Trump, then later claimed to be acting on his own recognizance–presumably as a hilariously inept way to give the president plausible deniability on the charge of once again obstructing justice.

Combined with the vindictive firing of Deputy FBI Director McCabe due to his cooperation with Mueller, it is now abundantly clear to anyone of good will in either party that the president is preparing to take the fateful step of quashing the investigation into alleged financial crimes, collusion and obstruction of justice by himself, his family, his business, his campaign and even his administration. Doing so would be an act that dwarfs Nixon’s famed Saturday Night Massacre. Nixon, after all, was only guilty of trying to cover up his involvement in a third-rate partisan burglary that had no significant impact on the election. Donald Trump’s alleged crimes include untold financial crimes and self-dealing, probable collusion with a hostile foreign government to steal and publicly release the campaign and personal data of numerous political opponents in a way that almost certainly changed the outcome of the election, followed by a certain and self-admitted coordinated campaign to obstruct justice into all inquiries about both financial fraud and collusion.

Never before has a president been broadly suspected of such an array of criminality by the entirety of the law enforcement apparatus (sadly, the FBI never put the wheels into motion over the Bush Administration’s lies that led to the invasion of Iraq.) Never before, even under Nixon, has a president been so openly at war with the FBI. And never before have the consequences been so severe. Donald Trump has not been a caretaker president. After losing the popular by over 3 million voters, the Trump Administration proceeded to govern in radical fashion as if it had won a landslide, attempting a complete dismantling of many government departments and an extremist reversal of decades of bipartisan policy agreements. Democrats and most Americans would strongly dislike a President Pence, but at least they wouldn’t wake up every day in uncertain fear and loathing of what new catastrophe the day’s news might bring.

It is time for Republicans in Congress to make one last decision about who they are, and what part they will play in this story. These are the times of which movies and novels will be written for decades. The key players will likely be immortalized for centuries should humanity survive. There is still time for honor and patriotism to overcome fear and greed. Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Leader Mitch McConnell can still salvage a shred of their reputations in the years to come by standing with country over party. Indeed, it would serve the long-term health of the Republican Party as well to be rid of Trump and what he represents.

The time has come for Congress to act and pass veto-proof legislation to protect the Mueller probe from President Trump’s aggression. It’s now or likely never, and history is watching.

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Follow David on Twitter @DavidOAtkins. David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.