A rumor on Capitol Hill is that Trump plans to fire Mueller before Christmas. While Congress goes home for Christmas and with no interviews to be held after the New Year, some speculate that Trump will try to rid himself of Mueller and his investigation into Russian interference. The question is, can Trump tell Mueller ‘You’re fired’ and hope it goes away? The answer seems to be yes, but a bigger question is whether it would be wise for Trump to do so.
As Mueller’s investigation draws closer to the truth, recent events have allowed Trump & Co. to throw mud in the water. The hope is that, after Peter Strzok was forced to leave the investigation over anti-Trump texts, the special counsel can be proved as a witch-hunt by sore-loser in the Democratic Party and be forced to stop its investigation. Trump has constantly bashed the investigation for its cost and political bias, denied any hint of collusion and attempted to downplay major revelations such as Michael Flynn’s guilty plea.
The issue of Peter Strzok looks like a defining moment, but it is not as clear-cut as it seems. For one thing, if there is an issue with Strzok’s positions on various investigations, that should be something that James Comey should be held accountable for. Before Trump fired him, Comey ran the FBI and the various investigation over Clinton’s emails server and Michael Flynn’s Russian connections.
Furthermore, while many of the texts were anti-Trump, there were just as many texts bashing Bernie Sanders among many others. Strzok is very much a moderate once you really dig into his texts, but it was foolish of him to have kept many of those texts, knowing what was at stake.
Regardless, the Strzok episode has provided fodder for the many Trump supporters out there and Fox News, which has objected to the investigation from the start, has been leading the charge over getting the investigation shut down and denouncing it as a witch-hunt. It doesn’t matter to them that Strzok has been let go faster than the recent Democrats accused of sexual harassment. To them, Trump is the hero and Robert Mueller is the partisan villain, the puppet of spoil-sport Democrats who can’t accept Trump as their leader.
But the big question is what can Trump actually do? Should he fire Mueller or try to stop the investigation?
Technically, he can. His supporters say he should. Rumor has it that Trump make a speech next week that will confirm whether he plans to do so. But what happens if he does?
For starters, Trump might end up doing what Nixon did: fire his way through the Justice Department until he finds someone to follow his orders.
After Jeff Sessions recused himself from the investigation, Mueller is reporting to Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein with the latter being the only person with the authority to fire Mueller and only then when he can prove that Mueller has acted unlawfully or committed misconduct such as a conflict of interests. Rostein has already made it clear that he will not fire Mueller without good reason.
Trump would, therefore, need to quickly get rid of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and several other officials until he finds someone willing to fire Mueller. That will get very messy very quickly.
The bigger problem is that Trump trying to halt the investigation will be seen as a cover-up, an attempt to hide the truth. His position is shaky enough with Tweets bashing the FBI’s reputation and throwing tantrums behind closed doors. Many have already taken Trump’s erratic behavior as a sign of guilt. Even if he isn’t guilty himself, any attempt to get rid of Mueller will turn the public against him. Fox New will cheer, but many will see their suspicions confirmed. As far as the public will be concerned, Trump is guilty and no tax breaks or populist window-dressing will convince them otherwise.
The backlash against Trump would be massive. The public will be outraged and Congress will be quick to follow. Even Republicans who stood by Trump or let his antics slide will be compelled to move against their leader. Democrats would go on the offensive, making sure the inquiry continued and the issue would dominate the 2018 midterms which would see Republicans hammered, unable to explain why Americans don’t deserve to know more.
Congress needs to decide now whether they will protect Mueller’s investigation. If they don’t, Trump will not hesitate to throw the question of the rule of law into chaos. How will they react if he does? Will they stand up for American democracy or will freedom die to the sound of rapturous applause?
Trump is clearly afraid of Mueller and what he will find out. He will try to stop Mueller finding out the truth, hence the smear campaign. He would love to tell Mueller that he’s fired, like the realityTV star he still is. If he does, it will be nothing more than an admission of guilt and may, like Nixon, lead to Trump’s downfall. Cooler heads in Trump’s inner circle may still prevail, but nothing is certain with Trump.
The fate of a nation and the foundations of its democratic institutions rests on whether Robert Mueller will keep his job.