Republicans and Democrats took up their usual positions after news broke that President Donald Trump ordered White House counsel Donald McGahn to fire special counsel Robert Mueller in June, only to drop the demand when the top White House lawyer threatened to quit.
Democratic lawmakers were predictably outraged.
Their Republican counterparts: crickets.
Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Judiciary Committee member, cast the president's attempt to fire the independent special counsel as “despotic and authoritarian.”
Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley called the story, first reported by the New York Times, a “red flag as big as they come” and declared the president’s “ongoing scheme to interfere with any investigation into Russia’s attack on our democracy” an “all-out assault on our institutions.”
Firing Robert Mueller is a red line, full stop.Today's report that Trump ordered Mueller's firing lays out what can only be described as despotic and authoritarian behavior - with strong overtones of Nixon’s Watergate. pic.twitter.com/Wv2fMijJM1 — Rep. Pramila Jayapal (@RepJayapal) January 26, 2018
Democratic Party brass took the opportunity to reiterate that lawmakers must “protect” Mueller’s investigation into possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia from any attempts by the White House to obstruct it.
“Robert Mueller must be allowed to do his job,” California Sen. Kamala Harris said Friday. “The American people are owed the truth.”
“We MUST protect the special counsel from President Trump,” New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker tweeted. “[South Carolina GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham] and I have put forward a bill to do so — Congress must act now.”
Robert Mueller must be allowed to do his job of leading this investigation. The American people are owed the truth. We must protect his independence and the rule of law.— Kamala Harris (@SenKamalaHarris) January 26, 2018
We MUST protect the special counsel from President Trump. Senator Graham and I have put forward a bill to do so – Congress must act now. https://t.co/HDq2tCOOGp— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) January 26, 2018
Trump dubbed the Times report that posted online Thursday night “fake news” when he was asked about it at the World Economic Council Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland.
“Typical New York Times,” he said. “Fake stories.”
A handful of of Democratic lawmakers took the opportunity to bash not just the president, but Fox News’ coverage of the report.
Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz retweeted a post from HuffPost reporter Matt Fuller in which Fox commentator Sean Hannity throws the Times’ sourcing for the report into question. The Times was trying to “distract” Americans from more important news, Hannity alleged, citing no sources of his own. Minutes later, he said Fox sources had confirmed the story — but quickly defended the president’s “right to raise... questions” about conflict of interest in the investigation.
Democratic senators said the report highlighted the need for a bill to protect the special counsel investigation from executive interference. Two bipartisan pairs of senators have offered such bills, but neither piece of legislation has made it out of committee.
“Judiciary Committee must approve and Congress must pass,” Connecticut Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a member of that committee, said.
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Republicans to this point have not seen any need to move on either bill as Mueller’s investigation has continued on despite intense public scrutiny fanned by the White House and House conservatives.
“I don’t hear much pressure to pass anything,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky told MSNBC in November. “There’s been no indication that the president or the White House are not cooperating with the special counsel.”
GOP leaders have not said whether they would now consider acting on such measures in light of Thursday’s news. No Republican senators or representatives had tweeted or put out a statement addressing the Times report by late Friday morning.
Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Bill Keating called on his Republican colleagues in the House to “stop undermining” the investigation by trying to shade it with stories of internal bias within the Justice Department and far-flung “secret society” conspiracies.
A cohort of some of the most pro-Trump conservatives in the House — including Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, Ohio’s Jim Jordan, and California’s Devin Nunes — has offered resolutions calling on Mueller to resign over varying degrees of perceived political bias and appeared on cable TV segments to discredit the FBI and DOJ.