Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Mulling Over Mueller

The Trump Regime is at least floating the trial balloon if Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is currently investigating Russia/Trump connections, should be fired.

Donald Trump is considering dismissing the special counsel assigned to the Russia investigation, a confidant said on Monday.

Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy told PBS Newshour that Trump is “considering perhaps terminating” Robert Mueller, the former FBI director who was appointed to run the investigation into Russian influence on the campaign by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on May 17.

Asked later if Trump is really considering firing Mueller, Ruddy said: “Yes.”

The "enlightened" pundits on the right are trying to do everything they can to sell this, the reason being that Mueller cannot be objective because of 1) his personal and professional friendship with James Comey from their FBI years and 2) as former FBI Director, his investigation would only serve as a cover-up for failures by the intelligence community to stop Russian interference.

Yeah, suddenly the Trump regime and its lackeys are worried about possible conflicts of interest, guys.

Meanwhile, Jack Goldstein at Lawfare ponders if Trump could fire Mueller himself, or if he has to order the person who appointed him, Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein, to do it.  The legal iddues say Trump most likely has the authority, but from a non-legal standpoint, it's a nightmare scenario.

It is a matter of Rosenstein’s judgment--about whether he is convinced by Trump’s reasons for the firing, about his relationship to the president and his view of the president’s prerogatives in this situation, about how he characterizes the overall situation he finds himself in, about the actions he is or isn’t willing to associate himself with, and about what his sense of integrity demands. At least two factors lead me to think Rosenstein will resign: (1) He has already seen his reputation soiled and his judgment questioned by the manner in which the President used his memorandum as a pretext for firing Comey; and (2) He appointed Mueller to great bipartisan acclaim, and he presumably did due diligence and convinced himself that Mueller was fit to serve. Unless Trump comes up with a clinching reason for firing Mueller that is now hard to fathom, it is hard to see how Rosenstein carries out the the order. He will resign.

Second, what happens as Trump moves down the line of succession? Newly confirmed Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand would be next, and then (I think) would come acting AAG for the National Security Division Dana Boente, who is not confirmed for that job but who has been Senate-confirmed as a U.S. Attorney. What a spot these two would be in! Would they carry out the President’s order, or resign? It might seem obvious that they would resign because they would not want to carry out or associate themselves with what Rosenstein would have thought, by hypothesis, was a bad faith or at least unacceptable order by the President. I think this is what would happen. But at some point down the chain of command a countervailing principle, call it the Bork principle, arises: stability in the Justice Department and in law enforcement more generally.

The decision by Brand or Boente to execute the President’s order or resign would be complicated by at least two unusual factors: (1) Unlike in Watergate, Attorney General Sessions remains in place above them, and could ensure, outside the Russia investigation from which he is recused, that the Department continued to function (assuming Sessions himself does not resign); (2) Amazingly, DOJ has no other Senate-confirmed officials, and there are complex questions about the line of succession after Brand and Boente for non-confirmed DOJ officials, and about the operation of the new Trump EO, and whether there is discretion on this matter and who can exercise it.

It is easy to imagine Brand resigning and perhaps Boente after her. It is also easy to imagine that one or the other carries out the President’s order on the Bork principle but at the same time announces that she or he plans very quickly to appoint a new Special Counsel of undoubted integrity to continue Mueller’s investigation. (I will ignore for now—these hypotheticals are getting depressing and complicated—what happens if Trump fires Brand or Boente for appointing a new Special Counsel.)

Third, what does Congress do? That is obviously the really important question. There is no doubt that firing Mueller would cause a backlash in Congress. The question is how much of one, and specifically, would it be enough to cause Republican leadership to intervene strongly with the President, and ultimately with impeachment? The answer depends on the reasons Trump gives for firing Mueller, the manner in which he does it, the precise reaction in DOJ, and what the nation’s reaction is. If Congress does not check the President, that leaves only the midterm or presidential elections, or possibly a 25th Amendment solution, as ways to stand up to the President. That may seem a depressing conclusion. But I predict it would not come to that. If the crazy scenario that got me to this point in the hypothetical decision chain materializes, Congress would rise up quickly to stop the President, and the pressure on the cabinet would be enormous as well. If I am naive in thinking this, then we are indeed in trouble.   
From a raw political standpoint, there's nothing at this juncture that makes me think the Trump Cult will do anything but cheer Mueller's firing.  Trump obviously thinks he can get away with it and win, and frankly why wouldn't he?  Which GOP members of Congress would stand up to Trump and demand his resignation or threaten impeachment?  McCain? Ryan? Rubio? McConnell?  The string of Republicans who have at every juncture so far shown nothing but abject cowardice?

Do you think Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan will appoint a special prosecutor?  Do you think Trump voters will care?

Goldstein does.

I do not.

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