On Friday, I noted that there is clearly a move afoot to fire Bob Mueller (Prime access). But it is less a conspiracy or planned course of action than a rising tide of fear and anger with different pro-Trump factions trying to delegitimize Mueller for its own sake and, if at all possible, goad President Trump into firing Mueller in a fit of impulse rage and fear – much as he did six months ago with James Comey. Paradoxically, Trump is himself part of the effort to ramp him into taking action. Chaos and fear are as much a part of it as planning. It’s more Lord of the Flies than Ocean’s Eleven. Still a key part of what is happening is not only that pro-Trump Republicans are trying to lay the groundwork for Mueller’s dismissal. They’re trying to goad Trump into taking the plunge. Because only the President can make this happen. Everything else is preparation and encouragement.
Remember that the firing of Comey played out similarly. It was preceded by a weekend at Trump’s Bedminster resort where the President was accompanied and churned up in his rage by his most inane and sycophantic advisors.
Along those lines, see this paragraph in this morning’s Washington Post article on President Trump saying he had no plans to fire Mueller. Down deeper in the copy there is this.
Rather, Trump appeared to be contemplating changes in the Justice Department’s leadership. In recent discussions, two advisers said, Trump has called the attorney general “weak,” and complained that Rosenstein has shown insufficient accountability on the special counsel’s work. A senior official said Trump mocked Rosenstein’s recent testimony on Capitol Hill, saying he looked weak and unable to answer questions. Trump has ranted about Rosenstein as “a Democrat,” one of these advisers said, and characterized him as a threat to his presidency.
Rosenstein is the key figure in the whole drama.
At least in theory, only he can fire Mueller. I stress, in theory. Trump can fire Rosenstein and keep firing people until he finds someone at the DOJ who will fire him. This is precisely what happened in the so-called “Saturday Night Massacre” during the Watergate scandal. President Nixon eventually found Robert Bork, who fired Archibald Cox. It was a Pyrrhic victory, which at least hastened and possibly even caused the end of Nixon’s presidency.
Rosenstein is the key figure since for the purposes of the Russia investigation, he is the Attorney General. If Trump replaced Jeff Sessions with someone else, Rosenstein’s status would end because the new Attorney General would not be under a recusal as Sessions is. That should make confirming a new Attorney General quite difficult. But if he fired Rosenstein as well, he could find someone else to take over on an acting basis. And the President has been quite creative in deciding who to pick in those cases.
President Trump clearly wants to fire Mueller. More specifically, he’s obsessed with ending the Russia probe, all of them, not just Mueller’s. Firing Mueller is the most obvious way to do that. But even Trump’s closest advisors and I suspect Trump himself realize that the firing of James Comey was an almost mind-bogglingly self-destructive act. There’s a good argument that whatever President Trump’s substantive wrongdoing in the larger Russia story, his legal exposure is overwhelmingly (at least based on what we currently know) based on the decision to fire Comey. But you can see the gears turning, looking for some way to can Mueller through a backdoor or cow him into going easy on the President.
Rosenstein is both Mueller’s singular protector and also the man who has been complicit in most of President Trump’s bad acts – from the firing of Comey itself to the decision last week to release a trove of private text messages between two FBI employees into the public domain.
I continue to think that there is a concerted effort to fire Mueller (Prime subscribers). You can see the plans being laid on numerous fronts, a growing number of Trump supporters being groomed into them. But the key decision remains in the hands of a man who acts on anger and impulse. So what will happen is impossible to predict.
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