In a somber editorial, The New York Times has called on the Republican Party to protect the rule of law from Donald Trump amid indications that he may fire special counsel Robert Mueller or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to shut down the Russian collusion investigation into his presidential campaign.
The online editorial, which will reportedly take up an entire page in Monday's print edition, begins with a quote from Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah): "This great nation can tolerate a president who makes mistakes. But it cannot tolerate one who makes a mistake and then breaks the law to cover it up." Hatch was speaking about former president Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
If Trump takes "drastic action" and shuts down the Russian collusion investigation he "will be striking at the foundation of the American government, attempting to set a precedent that a president, alone among American citizens, is above the law," the Times editorial board wrote. "What can seem now like a political sideshow will instantly become a constitutional crisis."
The president "has been known to huff and puff ... and he may be doing no more than that now," the Times acknowledged. But if he does strike a blow against the probe, legislators will "suddenly find themselves on the edge of an abyss, with the Constitution in their hands."
The Times reminds Republicans how they once described Trump "back when they thought they could still protect their party from him." They called him a "malignant clown," "unsound, uninformed, unhinged and unfit" and a "sociopath without a conscience."
The president is "not a king, but a citizen," the Times stated. How lawmakers respond to a Trump challenge to the rule of law "will shape the future not only of this presidency ... but of the American experiment itself."