Gehrke: This Utah Republican group is pressuring Congress to let Mueller’s probe run its course

Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune The Salt Lake Tribune staff portraits. Robert Gehrke.

As President Donald Trump unleashed a new assault on special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, a group of prominent Utah lawyers and politicos is stepping up the pressure on Congress to protect Mueller and let the investigation run its course.

In the coming days, these Utahns, working with the national group Republicans for the Rule of Law, plan to launch a series of pieces in newspapers, sit for interviews and take part in a social media campaign to support Mueller completing his work.

It comes at a time when Trump and his team are ramping up attacks on the legitimacy of the special counsel’s work, with the president frequently referring to it as a partisan witch hunt that has found “zero” evidence of wrongdoing by him or his advisers.

“The goal is to give support in as many different forums as possible and keep the pressure going about the need for the investigation to wrap up in the appropriate form,” said Kate Bradshaw, Utah organizer for the Republicans for the Rule of Law group and a GOP state delegate. “Whether they find something or they find nothing, it needs to run its proper prosecutorial course.”

Republicans for the Rule of Law, which includes Weekly Standard Editor Bill Kristol among its directors, is making similar efforts in other states, especially those with key Republican senators. (Hi, Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee!)

The efforts couldn’t come at a more critical juncture.

On Sunday, Trump made hopelessly muddled and misleading claims about bias on the Mueller team and demanding the Justice Department open a probe into the reported surveillance of his campaign by an FBI informant, presumably under direction of President Barack Obama.

The Justice Department’s inspector general will expand an existing investigation to address the president’s concern and, on Monday, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein planned to meet with the president and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats to discuss Trump’s latest tirade.

The whole strategy seems transparent. Trump’s aim is to undermine the Mueller investigation to create enough outrage among his base and enough uncertainty in everyone else’s minds that it at least gives him some room to maneuver or potentially even force Mueller’s ouster.

And it seems to be working.

Polls have shown an increasing distrust of the Mueller probe, particularly among Republicans. A Quinnipiac poll last month said 61 percent of Republicans think the Mueller probe has been unfair. (That number would presumably rise to 100 percent when you survey the 17 individuals indicted by Mueller’s team, including the five who have pleaded guilty).

That’s why the work of these Utahns is so important.

“We have to let the process go forward and get to the bottom of it,” said Mary Ellen Sloan, a retired attorney who spent 21 years in the civil division at the Salt Lake County district attorney’s office. Earlier this year, Sloan recruited more than 250 Utah lawyers to sign a letter urging Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee to defend Mueller and his probe.

“It’s very clear from the reports of the intelligence community that Russia interfered in the election,” she said. “Of course President Trump disputes the entire [premise]. It’s clear we are in a very serious situation as far as our democracy.”

Among the group’s goals is to urge Congress to pass legislation sponsored by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., aimed at protecting Mueller. While Trump could still order Rosenstein to fire Mueller, under the legislation, it could only be done for “good cause” and Mueller could appeal the decision to a three-judge panel.

The bill was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on a bipartisan vote last month and is awaiting consideration in the Senate. Both Hatch and Lee, who are members of the committee, voted against it. Lee said it is unconstitutional, since the Constitution gives the president discretion to fire who he wants; Hatch said the legislation is unnecessary, but firing Mueller would be the “stupidest thing the president could do.”

To which Trump probably said, “Hold my beer,” and logged on to Twitter.

Hatch isn’t wrong. It would be monumentally stupid to fire Mueller. But every play the president’s team has made in the past several weeks seems to be building to that end, which is why it’s important that Utahns — not just these Republican Utahns, but all of us — demand the Mueller investigation reach its conclusion.

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