At the close of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, Benjamin Franklin was quoted as saying America now had a republic — “if you can keep it.”
Keeping a republic means more than enjoying a blissful escape from monarchy. It also means respecting and defending the independent institutions that buttress the republican form of government. Over the past year, many of those institutions in America — the independent judiciary, the press, the intelligence community and the electoral system among them — have come under attack from President Donald Trump and his allies. They refuse to respect any institution that might stop them from getting their way.
Trump and his allies now are turning their guns on the FBI and the investigation led by Robert Mueller into whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Russian officials to sway the 2016 presidential election. Although Mueller is a Republican and was widely respected in the GOP, party members and their supporters now audaciously and contemptibly accuse him of directing a witch hunt with the goal of installing a new president more to their liking.
On Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., renewed his call for Mueller to recuse himself from the investigation. Earlier this month, U.S. Rep. Louis Gohmert, R-Texas, said of Mueller and Deputy Attorney General Rod Jay Rosenstein, “Both of them need to go. We’ve got to stop the coup before it becomes successful and these yahoos throw us into a civil war.” In November, U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., called on Mueller to resign and said, “We are at risk of a coup d’etat in this country.”
No one outside Mueller’s camp knows where his investigation might lead. But to suggest, in essence, that the very fact he is investigating the president and the president’s close associates proves he can’t be fair is to say the president is above the law. To say the president is above the law is to attack the very foundations of a republic. It is the kind of assault that Franklin warned of.
When Mueller was appointed in May to lead the investigation, Trump supporter Newt Gingrich tweeted that Mueller’s “reputation is impeccable for honesty and integrity.” Mueller was nominated to lead the FBI by Republican President George W. Bush in 2001, and he was unanimously approved by the Senate. Mueller has done nothing since then that should change the high regard in which he was held.
Yet Trump has tweeted the FBI’s reputation is “in Tatters, worst in History!” Fox News legal analyst Gregg Jarrett called Mueller’s investigation “illegitimate and corrupt.” Fox News host Sean Hannity says we are witnessing a “soft coup.”
The shameful parade of histrionic denunciations obscures the true goal of the investigation — to protect the integrity of America’s elections, which are the heart of our republic.
Trump, it is said, might be strategically attacking the FBI and the Mueller investigation to mute criticism should he fire Mueller or pardon one or more people. Or perhaps the president might be aiming to sow doubt about any charges Mueller might eventually bring. Ironically, should Mueller charge Trump with nothing, the president will have invited people to chalk it up to intimidation.
The incessant criticism before the facts are in comes at great cost. If people lose their faith in our ability to impartially investigate the highest in the land, if they lose faith in the independent institutions of our nation, they will have lost faith in the foundations of our republic.
History is full of noble causes that collapsed because too many people were willing to let it happen. This is a moment when Americans need to stand up for their republic.
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