Credit: George Danby

Sixty years ago, a Republican senator from Maine, Margaret Chase Smith, said, “I don’t believe the American people will uphold any political party that puts political exploitation above national interest.” Her words still ring true today, even in a Washington that Smith, who stood up to McCarthyism, might have found uncomfortably familiar.

I am a lifelong Republican from Aroostook County who served as the chief justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court during a more than 50-year legal career. Today, the rule of law is on trial in a manner that is unparalleled in my experience.

Mainers today depend on thoughtful, reasoned voices like Sen. Susan Collins and Sen. Angus King to defend the rule of law and pull us back from a dangerous assault on Robert Mueller and the justice system. Over the past few months, special counsel Mueller’s investigation has been called a “witch-hunt,” and elements of our justice system have been smeared by President Donald Trump and his team as “dishonest,” “corrupt” and “rigged.”

Political attacks can secure partisan advantage. They trivialize and seek to ignore, however, the undeniable fact that Mueller has secured guilty pleas from four members of Trump’s inner circle, including his campaign chairman Paul Manafort, National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and personal lawyer Michael Cohen. Defending Mueller’s ability to uncover and prosecute crimes must be a bipartisan commitment.

It is imperative that we let Mueller do his job. He is a respected fellow Republican whose allegiance is to country above all. Let our system of justice determine the facts and either exonerate or prove wrongdoing. As Americans, we should never permit political interference to diminish the rule of law. That’s not who we are as Americans and it isn’t who we should ever become.

Mueller’s ability to follow the facts is under threat like never before. Trump acted on his worst impulses less than 24 hours after the midterm elections by firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions and replacing him with a loyalist who is otherwise unqualified to lead the Justice Department. I do not believe I have ever met a lawyer who questioned Marbury v. Madison, the very foundation of our judicial process, as a settled precedent.

As a former chief justice and member of a political party that’s always stood for law and order together with vigilance against Russian interference in domestic affairs, I’m especially troubled. Every participant in the justice system needs to know that America has faith in their impartiality. Justice itself depends on it.

Every day the baseless attacks on the justice system continue, public confidence is eroded. When the House Freedom Caucus draws up articles of impeachment against Mueller, it should be a resounding wakeup call for today’s leaders like Collins to insist on action in a Senate that the framers of our Constitution designed for moments like these.

Congress can protect Mueller from Trump’s efforts to stifle the investigation. In an example of rare bipartisanship, Sens. Jeff Flake, Lindsey Graham, Thom Tillis, Chris Coons, Cory Booker and Chuck Grassley passed a bill through the Judiciary Committee to protect the Mueller investigation. But now it faces at best an uncertain future. Flake is retiring but searching for another Republican to help him secure a Senate vote before he departs in January.

Collins has the opportunity to join with Flake and prove that at least for a moment, Congress can still work effectively. In calling for a vote on the bill, Collins said: “It is imperative that Special Counsel Robert Mueller be allowed to complete his investigation into Russian influence.” But hope isn’t enough. Her work with Flake and like-minded Republicans to demand a vote from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and insist that they won’t leave this year without a vote would make a difference, as would demanding a vote to make the Mueller report public. Americans have a right to know the facts that Mueller uncovers during the course of the investigation.

Just as Smith was judged for her courage in speaking out against McCarthyism, we all must speak in support of the rule of law in this time of America’s testing. As Republicans we owe that much to our party, but more importantly, like all citizens we owe that and more to our country.

Dan Wathen is a resident of Augusta, and a former chief justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.