The revelations that Donald Trump is looking for dirt on Robert Mueller and his team to undermine the special counsel’s investigation, and that Trump is also considering using his pardon power to protect himself and his associates from any legal fallout, constitute the latest evidence that Trump is seeking to put himself beyond the reach of the law. An adviser told The Washington Post, “This is not in the context of, ‘I can’t wait to pardon myself,’” a denial that sure sounds like the president can’t wait to pardon himself. The New Republic’s Brian Beutler puts the situation most simply: “We’re on the brink of an authoritarian crisis.”
Looming over the investigation is the possibility that Trump might just fire Mueller. Congressional Republicans have responded to this rolling scandal in typical fashion: They might have some critical words for the president on background, but they have been reluctant to take a firm stand in public. Buzzfeed’s Emma Loop asked Republican senators on Thursday whether Trump firing Mueller would be a mistake. Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Richard Burr said, “I don’t think the president can fire Bob Mueller.” Senator Thom Tillis said, “Whether or not it’s a mistake, I won’t—I don’t think I’ll gauge that.” Senator Richard Shelby brushed the question off because, “that’s speculation.” Only Senator Marco Rubio could muster up a “yes it would be a mistake.”
On background, however, three senators had some harsher criticisms of Trump. As CNN reports, one senator called Trump’s interview earlier this week with The New York Times, in which he essentially warned Mueller not to investigate his personal finances, “pretty disturbing,” and acknowledged that Trump “willfully disregards the fact that the attorney general and law enforcement in general—they are not his personal lawyers to defend and protect him.” Another told CNN, “Any thought of firing the special counsel is chilling. It’s chilling. That’s all you can say.” A third remarked, “You’ve got a special counsel. Let the individual do his work. Don’t comment. Don’t interfere.” Only Senator Susan Collins went on the record to say, “It would be catastrophic if the president were to fire the special counsel.”
It has been clear for a long time now that Republicans will allow Trump to do all kinds of damage as long as they can get their legislative agenda through. They clearly know this is a crisis of historical proportions—but what’s the rule of law compared to a tax cut for the rich?