Complicating matters further—though only as far further as we trust Sean Spicer—is the fact that on Monday, the White House press secretary reaffirmed Trump’s pledge to testify to Mueller under oath. “He was … specifically asked whether he would talk to Director Mueller, and he made it very clear what his position was,” Spicer said.
But if Trump determined that the wrongdoing he’s hiding would be more politically damaging to him than the certain blowback he’d face for blowing up Mueller’s investigation, he’d do it. His decision to fire Comey proves as much. And Republicans in Congress would probably feel compelled, once again, to excuse his conduct. The GOP’s indifference to Comey’s fate put the rule of law under immense strain, and if Trump is allowed to sack Mueller or pardon his own inner circle, with no meaningful political consequences until the midterm elections at the earliest, it’ll be a horribly corrosive development—one that Democrats shouldn’t invite for narrow political gain.
Representative Adam Schiff, who serves as vice chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, suggests that Congress would be obligated to reappoint Mueller to his investigatory role legislatively if Trump extinguishes the special counsel one way or another.
Democrats could also forestall Trump’s interference by stating that such extraordinary corruption would merit impeachment. Party leaders have been generally and unnecessarily sheepish about calling for Trump’s impeachment, but this would be a perfectly defensible place for them to draw a bright line. Getting ahead of the story would force Republicans to comment on the issue before Trump makes another reckless decision rather than after, hopefully limiting his options.
Minority Leader Chuck Schumer took a preliminary step in this direction on Monday, using the Senate floor to denounce the “shameful ploy” by Trump loyalists who are trying to undermine Mueller’s credibility.
But Newt Gingrich and other supplicants aren’t the ultimate targets here—except insofar as Trump might take cues from them and initiate another sneak attack on the man investigating him. Democrats should hope Trump doesn’t go that route again, but they should be planning as if he will.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Mueller isn’t an employee of the executive branch. He isn’t a presidential appointee.