It is very difficult to get my head around the question of whether President Trump will fire Robert Mueller. Trump’s personal attack on Mueller yesterday followed by a personal attack on Rod Rosenstein this morning portends a trajectory that ends with the firing of both men. We don’t know that will happen. The consequences of it happening are so dire that it is hard to imagine it will happen. Yet that appears to be more or less precisely what happened with James Comey. Trump is a man of anger and predictable habits. It would be naive in the extreme to assume Trump won’t eventually fire both men.
Do I think it will happen? I have to say that I do not think it will. But when I scrutinize my reasoning in coming to that judgment my reasoning strikes me as weak.
In any case, it is worth contemplating what will happen if and when that transpires. It is the most overused phrase in the world. But at that moment I believe the US will move into a genuine constitutional crisis.
Let me walk you through it to try to bear out those ominous words.
If and when Trump fires Mueller he will have shown through his actions that he will not allow any investigation of Russia and his campaign to go forward. Bob Mueller is one of the most respected law enforcement officials in the country. His integrity and independence are considered beyond reproach. If one insists on looking under the veil at his own political leanings, he is a Republican – both a registered Republican and the appointee, as FBI Director, of a Republican (George W. Bush). If Mueller is not acceptable to Trump as an investigator, clearly no legitimate investigator is or ever will be.
So, again, if Trump fires Mueller he will have made clear that no investigation of the bundle of Russia-related issues is acceptable. Anyone who took it on after Mueller would know that as soon as the probe heated up or press reports confirmed the seriousness of the investigation that person would also be fired. Would another legitimate person even accept an appointment after that? It’s hard to see. It may be best to say that accepting an appointment under those conditions would be prima facie evidence of unfitness for the job.
I cannot think of a set of facts in which a President makes more clear that they will use the statutory powers of the presidency to render themselves above the rule of law. That sounds like a hyperbolic statement, I know. But look at the facts we’ve just walked through.
At that point, the logical move within our constitutional system is for the Congress to move toward impeaching the President and removing him from office. Whether anything like that is in the offing seems quite doubtful. At least at first.
I actually think it’s possible that such a move would push Trump into severe jeopardy in the Senate. But impeachments don’t happen in the Senate. The trial happens there. Impeachment happens in the House. And there I think the prospects are far more dubious.
At that point we will move in uncharted waters.
My biggest concern – based in part on just observing Trump but specifically how Comey’s firing went down – is that Trump will just do this in the middle of the night (at least figuratively but perhaps literally). With no warning. Perhaps no warning even to himself. I fear that it will all go down quickly and impulsively so no other Republicans outside the White House, Hill leaders etc., have a chance to walk him through the consequences of his actions. He does it and it’s a fait accompli. Now, maybe I’m too sanguine about GOP leaders’ willingness to draw that line. But I’d like them to at least get the chance. And I tend to doubt they’d get it.
Again, my best guess is that Trump will not fire Mueller. But I think I base that on the same mix of experience, logic and gut sense that would have led me to believe that firing Comey was out of the question.