Even Republicans will have no choice but to act…right?
There are rumblings that Donald Trump is considering firing special investigator Robert Mueller.
Mueller is presently investigating all things Trump-Russia, including whether Trump obstructed justice by firing James Comey from his position as director of the FBI. Mueller has consistently received bipartisan support from members of Congress. He was formerly the FBI director for 12 years under both George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
Trump is being advised by many of his inner circle to not terminate Mueller, but Trump seemingly makes decisions based on the last person to speak to him combined with wind direction and day of the week.
Putting the politics, optics and consequences aside momentarily, firing Mueller is a tricky maneuver in practice, though it is doable. It would involve leaning on the deputy attorney general (since Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself). Should the deputy refuse, Trump can fire him and keep firing down the ranks until he finds someone willing to fire Mueller.
Democrats are already publicly plotting for a situation where Mueller is canned and are basically daring Trump to do it.
Republicans are equally skittish about terminating Mueller. According to Politico, many GOP Senators were adamant that his ouster would be hugely problematic:
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC): “It would be a disaster. There’s no reason to fire Mueller. What’s he done to be fired?”
Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME): firing Mueller, would “certainly be an extraordinarily unwise move.”
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ): “I think there’s a lot of confidence in Mueller around here. We’ve all dealt with him.”
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ): “He’s a very much trusted individual and had an outstanding record as head of the FBI.”
Let’s say Trump does fire Mueller, what does that mean?
Well, for starters, it certainly appears that he has something to hide. If you and your team are truly innocent, why fire an independent, non-partisan arbiter who can completely exonerate you and end this thing? If you’re innocent but your team did something wrong, don’t you want to know that, as you previously claimed?
Only one conclusion can logically be made if Trump fires Mueller: He or his team is guilty as hell.
Sessions, Mike Flynn and Jared Kushner all lied about or failed to disclose meeting with key Russians prior to and after the election. Other connections between the Trump team and Russia have already been established as well, including former campaign manager Manafort, former adviser Carter Page, buddy and former strategist Roger Stone and personal attorney Michael Cohen. That’s an awful lot of smoke. If Trump has Mueller axed, and simply proclaims himself and his team innocent, sure his base will believe him, but the vast majority of Americans will be even more suspicious of Trump’s actions.
Even many on the feckless right in Washington will throw in the towel on Trump (though if you’re betting on Sens. Rubio or Cruz or McConnell or Speaker Ryan to grow a spine, good luck).
Bottom line: If Trump actually is stupid enough to fire Mueller, he’s done.
His absolute best case scenario is Democrats grinding Congress to a halt over this issue with investigations that will last the length of his presidency, whether that’s eight months or eight years. Every talk show, every tweet, every public comment by a Democrat will deal with Trump-Russia. The consistent hammering home of the point will make the Benghazi investigation look like an afternoon chat.
Trump’s chances of being impeached by a GOP-led Congress would go up significantly by firing Mueller. Americans overwhelmingly believe that the Russia investigation is legitimate and a serious concern. The conservative House Freedom Caucus — not one to conform to begin with — could eye Mike Pence and see a more reliable friend in the White House to accomplish their objectives. They’ve already shown a disdain for many of Trump’s actions and could be an unlikely ally for Democrats. Those two factions alone are enough to impeach Trump.
If Trump is actually impeached, there’s little doubt he’d be found guilty of obstruction (or whatever other charge is brought against him) by the more moderate Senate. Well before that point, it’s hard to envision public opinion not already turning even more sharply against him, freeing more conservative operators from scrutiny.
The most likely scenario, as we’ve written previously, is that Trump will end up resigning after GOP leaders go to the White House and tell him that his options are a) resign or b) face the public embarrassment of impeachment in the House and a trial in the Senate where he will be convicted. (This entire situation, including the firing of a special investigator and being approached by congressional Republicans, is basically identical to how and why Richard Nixon resigned.) Trump will choose door number one, make up an excuse for his resignation and give a speech proclaiming himself the greatest president of all time and how much #MAGA he accomplished. From there, no matter how ridiculous such inaction would be, and barring evidence of outright treason, it’s unlikely Trump would face additional punishment.
Maybe in Trump’s mind firing Mueller is the key to end the Trump-Russia story once and for all. In actuality, the only thing it would likely end is his own presidency.
Now, if Mueller is fired and Republicans continue to be all talk and no action, it is not hyperbole to wonder if we have a president who is held to the law or a dictator above it.
145 days in, 1317 to go