The White House has been under fire this week over statements made by President Trump contradicting his own U.S. intelligence agencies’ assessment that Russia did in fact interfere in the 2016 presidential election.
Russian election interference has been at the heart of an investigation conducted by special counsel Robert Mueller — an investigation Trump has repeatedly attacked.
Now, a national group of concerned Republican lawyers is raising its voice to protect Mueller’s investigation from political interference. KUER spoke with Utah Republicans Kate Bradshaw, a local lobbyist with Holland & Hart, David Irvine, a Salt Lake attorney, and state Sen. Todd Weiler on why they're joining the campaign to shield the special counsel.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: Kate, can you just briefly explain what the purpose of this group is?
Bradshaw: The purpose is to provide a forum for discussion by Republicans about the importance of the rule of law — about being the party that upholds the rule of law. I think some Republicans have felt that if they didn't agree with some of the things that were going on that they had to just stay silent, and so giving Republicans an opportunity to say there are other people that agree with them is part of what this movement is about.
Q: David, why has this been such a difficult issue both for Republicans, but just in general, why has this become such a partisan flashpoint?
Irvine: This is the first time in a long time that the Republicans have held not only majorities in both houses of Congress, but the presidency as well. And for reasons that I don't profess to understand, I believe the Republicans in Congress have been completely supine when it comes to any criticism at all of the Trump presidency. And the efforts that he's made lately to undermine the special counsel investigation at every possible opportunity and with exaggerations and falsehoods that are kind of astounding. I think the rule of law is at a crossroads with this administration and it's important that particularly Republicans but everyone be active and do whatever they can to ensure its survival.
Q: Sen. Weiler, you're a lawyer by trade, so do you agree that President Trump has been trying to undermine the investigation?
Sen. Weiler: You know I'm not sure what to believe because you know I could show you CNN stories going back 18 months saying that Trump was on the verge of firing Mueller and he's never fired Mueller. I think we have a very unique situation here where Trump won the election that he was supposed to lose. And so I think that Trump and also Republicans have felt under attack from minute one.
Q: So when President Trump says this is a witch hunt, which he has repeatedly done, and his allies have started co-opting that language, do you think he has a point?
Sen. Weiler: I don't think it's a witch hunt. I think that's I think Trump is an egomaniac. And I think it's very difficult if not impossible for him to admit anything that's going to delegitimize his presidency. And so I think this is part of his defense mechanism. I’m not supporting that, but at some point, if three years from now this is still going on, then maybe it becomes a witch hunt. So at some point I think it should have a conclusion. ...
Q: But for right now it sounds like you're supportive?
Sen. Weiler: Oh, absolutely. I think Trump should support it, if he was smart — if Mueller comes out and says, ‘OK, yeah he had some bad campaign manager we found some stuff from a decade ago but we didn't find any evidence that Donald Trump himself was colluding with the Russians’ that actually helps Donald Trump.
Q: Kate, when you've reached out to other Republicans, has it been difficult to get them to have this conversation. Are you finding it easy or hard to how people engage with this topic of whether Mueller should continue his investigation?
Bradshaw: Well, as Sen. Weiler alluded to, it seems like with the election in 2016, everything kind of instantly became more partisan and ramped up. ... And so that's been I think a challenge for those for people who were saying, ‘Well, I'm team Republican, but that doesn't mean that I'm OK with everything on the spectrum.’ That doesn't mean that I'm not interested in finishing this investigation and making sure we get to a conclusion that we can all feel like was legitimate.
Q: On the homepage of "Republicans for the Rule of Law," there's a quote from Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah saying that firing Mueller would be the “stupidest thing” the president could do. The Utah delegation has spoken out in support of the Mueller probe, but they haven't had to vote on it yet. Why do you think this is important for Utah's congressional delegation to actually say, ‘Yes, we want this investigation to continue’?
Irivine: I think it's important for all members of Congress to take a position on this kind of a measure, whether the president signs it or not. And I think there are there are many who would welcome an opportunity to go on record saying this this is a red line and it would be entirely inappropriate for the president to cross it. I think it's important for Congress to take a position — which it has never done yet in a significant way on the conduct of Mr. Trump.