Trump: What happens if he fires Mueller?
Six months into his presidency, said Jonathan Chait in NYMag.com, Donald Trump is “mobilizing for war against the rule of law.” In an interview last week with The New York Times, President Trump strongly hinted that he may fire Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating contacts between Russia’s government and Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. Trump said he would consider it “a violation” if Mueller looked into his financial dealings and tax returns to see if he has business ties to Russia—an indication Trump “is probably hiding something deeply incriminating.” Trump’s surrogates, meanwhile, are already laying the groundwork for Mueller’s dismissal, accusing the lifelong Republican of partisan bias and “conflicts of interest.” Trump can’t fire Mueller directly, said Doyle McManus in the Los Angeles Times. He would have to give the order to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein; if Rosenstein refused, it might spark an ugly repeat of President Nixon’s “Saturday Night Massacre” during Watergate, with Trump firing Justice Department officials until one agreed to do his bidding. Another option is for Trump to force out Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who recused himself from the Russia probe, and replace him with a loyalist willing to fire Mueller. Either way, it seems we’re “headed for a constitutional crisis” and a “presidency-destroying disaster.”
Actually, “Trump can probably fire Mueller and get away with it,” said Scott Lemieux in TheWeek.com. The only remedy for such an abuse of power would be impeachment—or for Congress to reappoint Mueller as an unfireable independent counsel—and the Republicans controlling Congress have made it clear that “Trump can be as corrupt as he wants” so long as he supports their agenda. From a purely tactical standpoint, firing Mueller sooner rather than later might be a “smart move” for Trump, said Peter Beinart in TheAtlantic.com. Better to “provoke a showdown” now, rather than wait for Mueller to uncover something damning that damages Trump’s support among Republicans.
Rather than fire Mueller, said James Freeman in WSJ.com, Trump should insist that his investigation be reined in. Mueller is reportedly poring through Trump’s real estate deals with Russians from years ago, as well as the finances of former campaign manager Paul Manafort. That suggests that he’s found no evidence of collusion with Russia and is now engaged in a classic “fishing expedition.” To ensure fairness, Rosenstein should issue a new set of orders limiting the scope of Mueller’s inquiry to real violations of federal law during the 2016 campaign. “No American, not even Donald Trump, deserves to be the subject of an investigation without limits.”
But every American deserves to know the truth about Trump and Russia, said Zack Beauchamp in Vox.com. The order creating the special counsel’s investigation directed Mueller to look into “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign,” as well as any cover-ups or obstruction of justice. To now rule that Trump and his associates’ financial dealings with Russia should be off-limits wouldn’t pass the smell test. Even the Republicans who have, up to now, “bowed down to Trump” have limits, said David Leonhardt in The New York Times. They just overwhelmingly passed new Russia sanctions over his objections, and several have publicly defended Mueller and Sessions from Trump’s unhinged attacks. With Trump’s approval rating mired below 40 percent, “Republican support for Trump has started to crack.” If Trump tests GOP leaders’ loyalty by triggering a Nixonian crisis, he may be disappointed. ■