It’s not just Robert Mueller who needs protection

The Observer editorial board

Republicans in Congress are attempting to undermine special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
Republicans in Congress are attempting to undermine special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. AP

Thom Tillis no longer thinks it’s urgent to protect special counsel Robert Mueller from Donald Trump.

We think it’s more urgent than ever. And it’s not just the special counsel who needs protection.

Back in August, the Republican U.S. senator from North Carolina seemed to share at least some of our concern. Then, he co-sponsored legislation that would make firing a special counsel subject to review by a three-judge panel. Tillis, in interviews, did not shy away from indicating that his bill was directed at President Donald Trump.

“We don’t want to restrict the administration’s authority or the Department of Justice from removing a counsel. We just want to make sure to the American people that they can be convinced it was done for the right reasons,” Tillis said then on “Fox News Sunday” with Chris Wallace.

But in a report in the Daily Beast last week, Tillis’s office said that while he still supports the bill, the matter is no longer urgent because the president says he doesn’t plan to fire Mueller.

After all, when has this president said something that wasn’t true?

If anything, the effort to discredit Mueller has intensified in recent weeks, with Trump supporters regularly impugning the special counsel, his investigation, the FBI and the Justice Department. That includes the Republican-led U.S. House Intelligence committee voting Monday to release a secret memo that attempts to undermine Mueller’s investigation by alleging that political bias is behind it. The four-page memo provides no documentation to back up its charges, reports say, and the FBI says releasing it would be “extraordinarily reckless.”

The New York Times reported Monday that Republicans might also use the memo to focus on Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who the memo says approved an application to extend surveillance of former Trump campaign associate Carter Page last spring. While the FBI long had reason to believe Page might be acting as a Russian agent, Republicans could use the memo to say that Rosenstein acted too hastily in approving the surveillance.

All of which might be enough to persuade Trump to fire Rosenstein, whom the president has regularly criticized. That would pave the way for another deputy attorney general who might not be as protective of Mueller’s investigation.

The possibility is enough to prompt Democrats and some Republicans to issue warnings all over again about firing the special counsel. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who introduced legislation similar to Tillis’s bill in August, said Sunday that he’d love to pass the measure pronto.

Others, including Tillis, have chosen instead to be meekly quiet as their colleagues threaten the integrity of not only Mueller, but the nation’s top law enforcement agency. It’s dangerous, and it’s going to get worse if other Republicans don’t realize soon how urgent it has already become.