Robert Mueller’s firing would be a Constitutional crisis
In light of the recent indictments emerging from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, some Congressional Republicans have responded in an alarming manner. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), co-sponsored by Reps. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) and Louie Gohmert (R-TX), called for Mueller to be fired on the grounds that he is somehow inextricably linked to Hillary Clinton and her 2016 presidential campaign. Moreover, President Donald Trump himself expressed anger with Mueller and the Russia investigation, as apparent in his tweet — presented in all caps to emphasize just how strongly he feels he’s correct — “….Also, there is NO COLLUSION!”
The validity of that statement remains to be seen, but Mueller’s investigation will almost certainly provide an answer sometime in the future. In the meantime, we are left to grapple with the possibility that Mueller could be fired. How exactly that might come about, if at all, is difficult to say. However, it should be rather difficult for Trump to do it, and for Gaetz, Biggs, and Gohmert it is all but impossible.
One key fact here is the recusal of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. In light of Sessions’ controversy over his failure to disclose communications with Russian officials, the Attorney General recused himself from the Russia investigation to prevent a conflict of interest. What would presumably be Trump’s easiest means of firing Mueller — ordering Sessions to do it — is now impossible. In place of Sessions, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is overseeing Mueller’s investigation. Also important is the ardent support Rosenstein has shown for Mueller, indicating he would be unlikely to fire the Special Counsel if Trump asked him to. This makes sense given that he appointed Mueller himself, but he later affirmed his support when questions of Mueller’s potential arose. “Director Mueller is going to have the full independence he needs to conduct that investigation,” Rosenstein said.
So, if Trump wants Mueller gone, the path to that outcome is ethically questionable. Namely, Trump could adopt one of Nixon’s tactics — fire the overseer until one willing to fire the investigator is appointed. This ultimately got Nixon in more trouble, though, and any attempt by Trump to do this could potentially bring calls for impeachment. If Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is to be believed, there “[would] be holy hell to pay” if Trump were to remove Mueller.
This whole situation seems to be thematically consistent with the rest of Trump’s presidential tenure. There is a flavor of procedural uncertainty and an undertone of autocracy. We are left then to wonder what might come of the remainder of the Trump presidency. With impeachment still seeming unlikely, and with anti-Trump Republican incumbents announcing retirement in mass, Mueller might be the only real threat to the Trump presidency beyond record-low approval ratings and a Democratic challenger in 2020. With Paul Manafort and company recently indicted on numerous charges, Mueller is closing in on the President. The information from these indictments shows that Trump campaign officials were at the very least trying to collude with Russia, though it is a distinct possibility that they were too incompetent to succeed in this effort.
Given how high up these indictments are reaching — Manafort was at one point Trump’s campaign manager — we know that Trump feels threatened. And we expect him to do what he usually does when he doesn’t like the facts: lie. He will lie and lie and try to justify firing Mueller, and if he can make it past the procedural roadblocks and fire Mueller, all bets are off. Conversations of impeachment previously limited to Democrats in Congress will reach the rest of Washington. Moreover, given the Democrats’ recent gains in the 2017 election, it might be in the GOP’s best interest to finally stand up to Trump.