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With Fresh Threats to Investigate or Oust Mueller, Critics Warn Trump Approaching 'Red Line'

"Be ready to take to the streets. This is an attack on our Republic."

Public Citizen denounced the Trump administration's attempts to undermine Special Counsel Robert Mueller for his alleged conflicts of interest, saying the accusation of ethics violations were "rich coming from the most conflict-ridden administration in modern history and an obvious red herring." (Photo: Alex Wong)

Former White House ethics attorney Walter Shaub sounded alarms Friday in response to growing calls on the political right, and rumblings from within the White House, for Special Counsel Robert Mueller to be ousted amid suggestions that bias is tainting the investigation into alleged Russian interference in last year's election and possible Trump campaign collusion with that effort.

"The coordinated effort by President Trump and his surrogates to discredit the Mueller investigation raises serious alarms," said Shaub, now the senior ethics director at the Campaign Legal Center, in a statement. "Rather than making themselves complicit in this assault on the rule of law, Members of Congress should send a clear message to the President that firing Mueller is a red line he must not cross."

His comments came after Trump's attorney called for a second special counsel to examine links between the Justice Department and Fusion GPS, a private firm that carried out its own research regarding Trump's ties with Russia.

Shaub also urged Americans to be prepared to "take to the streets" on Friday after Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) called on his fellow Republicans to support the firing of Mueller, accusing the special counsel of being "infected with bias" in an interview with CNN.

Trump supporters have pushed reports in recent days of an FBI agent and FBI lawyer who were found to have expressed anti-Trump views in text messages in 2016. The two employees briefly worked on Mueller's investigative team, but were removed last summer—a legally unnecessary move, considering that FBI and other federal employees are not prohibited from harboring or privately expressing political opinions.

Government watchdog group Public Citizen also denounced the Trump administration's attempts to attack Mueller for his alleged conflicts of interest, saying the accusation of ethics violations were "rich coming from the most conflict-ridden administration in modern history and an obvious red herring."

"Mueller is a Republican who was appointed to head the FBI by President George W. Bush and is a Trump administration appointee," pointed out Lisa Gilbert, the group's vice president of legislative affairs. "But now that indictments have been handed out and former Trump aides are cooperating with the special counsel, the administration's tune has changed dramatically. A smear campaign shouldn't be allowed to impact the important work of the investigation to uncover whatever the Trump administration has to hide."

At the Philadelphia Daily News this week, Will Bunch noted that Trump's attempts to discredit and derail the Mueller investigation are unsurprising considering his interference with former FBI director James Comey's probe and his other frequent attacks on anyone who criticizes him.

"The attacks on legitimate media as 'the enemy of the American people' and the non-stop refrains about 'Fake News'...the constant lies that you can disprove either with the naked eye (inauguration crowd size) or a 30-second fact check (that Trump doesn't know his sexual-misconduct accusers)—all of these things have been trial runs to see what the president can get away with," wrote Bunch.

Like Shaub and—which has prepared for months to hold "rapid response" protests across the country should Trump fire Mueller—Bunch urged Americans to take to the streets.

"With a majority of Congress and a 5-4 edge on the Supreme Court on the other side, a unified people—with their beaten-down allies in the media, among the disorganized Democrats, and elsewhere—are the only hope of stopping this," he wrote.

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