House and Senate Republicans are slowly being dragged into the vortex of impeachment. First, they thought refusing to enlist a select committee to investigate the Russia affair would put distance between themselves and the White House. But then Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., decided to do his job and hold open hearings. Then Republicans thought they’d defer to former FBI director James Comey to conduct a full and fair investigation. But President Donald Trump fired him. Then they thought at least they could deflect questions to Trump (who in turn would direct questions to his high-octane lawyer Marc Kasowitz) or to the special counsel.
But then Trump publicly admitted he is under investigation for firing Comey and lashed out at his inquisitors, raising the real possibility that he might try to fire special counsel Robert S. Mueller III or Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein.
Avoidance doesn’t seem to pay dividends for Republicans cowering on Capitol Hill.
Rather than sit passively as the president self-immolates, elected Republicans might try a different approach.
First, GOP leaders should publicly state that if the president fires Rosenstein because he refuses to fire Mueller, the House will have no choice but to consider impeachment.
Second, Vice President Mike Pence has already gotten separate counsel. He should now remove himself from any discussions internally relating to the case and decline to comment on it publicly. And he should, in the presence of a witness or two, urge the president not to fire Rosenstein or Mueller.
If Trump is forced to go, Pence will need to be free from further taint. (He has already been compelled to mislead the public on Michael T. Flynn’s contacts with Russians and on the reason for firing Comey.) Pence is the one executive branch employee whom Trump cannot fire; he therefore has leverage to speak his mind – or remain silent. He should be clear that executive privilege does not pertain to conversations that relate to a criminal investigation, and hence he will answer all questions put to him by the special counsel.
Third, if Republican leaders refuse to take up hearings on emoluments and the president’s refusal to come to Congress for consent, as mandated in the Constitution, some brave GOP senators and/or congressmen should join the lawsuit brought this week by Democratic lawmakers seeking to compel Trump to disclose his receipt of foreign monies and refrain from accepting monies from foreign governments until Congress can consider whether to consent to these transactions.
Trump, if left to his own devices and to the influence of enablers, will destroy his presidency. As with the airline warning to put on the oxygen mask before helping others, Republicans need to adopt a plan aimed at curtailing Trump’s self-destructive behavior. Blind support has the opposite effect. In restraining Trump from, for example, trying to fire Mueller and/or Rosenstein, Republicans can, at the very least, buy some time to accomplish something before the 2018 midterms. They can also demonstrate a modicum of independence from the unraveling president and give voters some hope that they will uphold their oaths.
We are under no illusion that the worst of the sycophants in the House, Senate and Cabinet will do the right thing. However, a strong contingent of GOP lawmakers (e.g. the so-called Tuesday Group in the House, Sens. Jeff Flake and John McCain of Arizona, Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine) can send a clear warning: Fire Rosenstein and/or Mueller, and your presidency will be at risk. Continue to hide your foreign earnings, and we will force disclosure.