The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Will Paul Ryan unshackle himself from Donald Trump and give a full-throated defense of the rule of law? Now that he has announced his retirement from Congress, we urge him to do so.
Ryan must be clear: Any attempt by the president to quash the investigation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller is an attack on the rule of law. The House speaker should throw his support behind legislation to protect Mueller.
Ryan will leave behind a legacy of honest, thoughtful conservatism — he fought for what he thought was best for his constituents and the country, based on a vision of smaller, less intrusive government and personal freedom. His rise to power in Washington over the past two decades put Wisconsin at the center of some of our most important political debates.
But Ryan’s decision to leave Congress, while a blow to Wisconsin’s political might, could be good for our democracy if Ryan finds his voice.
The speaker has consistently defended Mueller. He repeated Wednesday what he has said before, that he doesn’t believe President Trump will fire Mueller before the investigation is complete.
But after an early morning raid on the offices of Trump’s personal attorney on Monday, the president erupted in anger. He called it an “attack on the country,” saying Mueller’s investigators were “the most biased group of people” and that “Many people have said, ‘You should fire him.’”
Maybe this is just Trump venting. With Trump, a New York real estate tycoon who has associated with fixers and con men his entire adult life, you never know. But with the law closing in, a president already given to rash judgment may act rashly.
If Trump moves to fire Mueller or his boss at the Justice Department, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, Ryan and his colleagues in Congress must be ready to act.
And not just with words. They should throw their support behind a bill that would protect the special counsel. Two bills under consideration would give a panel of federal judges the power to review any dismissal of the special counsel and decide whether there was “good cause” to fire him.
During the Watergate crisis, it was Republican leaders in the legislative and judicial branches who stood strong in defense of democracy and the fundamental principle that no person is above the law and certainly not an elected public servant of the people, which is what the president of the United States remains.
Republican Sen. Howard Baker was the one who asked, “What did the President know and when did he know it?”
Republican Judge John Sirica, an Eisenhower appointee, ordered President Nixon to turn over his tapes of White House conversations, which revealed his crimes and ended his presidency.
It is time now for Republicans to stand up again to defend an investigation of an administration, especially as we’ve learned more and more about Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Speaker Ryan, if anything is done to interfere with or stop the Mueller investigation before it concludes, you should do everything your power to retain all findings, all records and all investigators through the Legislative Branch.
Our nation’s founders set up three separate branches for exactly this purpose — to help us keep democracy alive. It becomes especially important when one party controls all three branches, as Republicans do today, that our representatives in Congress stand strong to ensure the citizens of our democracy remain in charge.
We live in a dangerous world, one that requires steady American leadership. A constitutional crisis, prompted by a president eager to cover his tracks, would be like nothing we have seen since Watergate and would severely weaken the nation both at home and abroad.
Republican leaders in the other two branches stood up in defense of democracy in the 1970s.
Your time is now, Paul Ryan.