The one-year anniversary of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation has seen a shift in the GOP’s stance on the probe. Top Republicans are dropping the pretense that they want to give Mueller the time he needs, instead calling for him to wrap it up.
As Republicans get bolder in calling for an end to the probe, a bill to protect Mueller, buoyed last month by some bipartisan momentum, languishes in procedural limbo.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, a usually reliable barometer of party opinion, for months has tiptoed the line between appeasing President Donald Trump and respecting the rule of law. Back in March, he told reporters that Mueller should “absolutely” be allowed to finish his investigation unimpeded, adding “I am confident he will be able to do that.”
But on Thursday, Ryan shifted course, telling reporters, “it’s time to wrap it up.”
“I mean, we want to see this thing come to its conclusion, but again, I’ve always said he should be free to finish his job,“ Ryan continued. “It’s been a year, my guess is he’s probably coming to a conclusion.”
Vice President Mike Pence has never been as clear in his support for the probe. Still, in December, he said on Fox News: “So we’ll let the special counsel do their job and continue to cooperate, but we’re going continue to focus on our job, and I think that’s exactly what the American people want us to do.”
But last week, Pence made a comment almost identical to Ryan’s new talking point, telling NBC News: “Our administration has provided more than a million documents; we’ve fully cooperated in it, and in the interest of the country, I think it’s time to wrap it up.”
By GOP standards, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) has been a relatively staunch defender of Mueller’s right to finish his investigation.
“I continue to believe what I believed for a long time: The best thing that can happen for everyone, the President included, is that Mueller be allowed to complete his work,” Rubio said to the Tampa Bay Times in December. “I remain convinced that when this is all said and done, Mueller is going to only pursue things that are true and he will do it in a fair and balanced way.”
But even Rubio has started sounding skeptical. “If there was anything about collusion, it would have been leaked a long time ago and everybody would have been talking about it,” he said on Fox News.
Sen. John Thune (R-SD) has performed the same shift. In June, Thune called Mueller a “man of integrity” on MSNBC, adding “I think it’s better for all of us if that work continues.”
Thune struck a very different tone on Thursday. “They’ve had months and months to do this, and I think it’s time for them to begin to start winding this down, and I hope that happens sooner rather than later because I don’t think it’s in anyone’s best interest to drag these sorts of things out forever and to become an unending campaign,” he said on Fox News. “It’s my fear that if this starts heading down different rabbit trails, that inevitably could happen.”
Meanwhile, on the legislative side, a recent upswell of support to protect Mueller and his efforts has petered out.
Last month, the bipartisan bill was passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, fueled by a wave of comments from Trump suggesting that a White House effort to end or stymie the probe could be imminent.
But Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s refusal to let it to the floor for a vote has effectively stalled that momentum. And the party’s shift toward a “wrap it up” stance this week suggests it isn’t likely to move any time soon.