While Donald Trump continues to deny that he is planning to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller as the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and collusion with the Trump campaign moves closer to the White House, rumors are flying that the president’s first move may be to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
One reason is that, technically, Trump himself can’t fire Mueller.
That can only be done by the Department of Justice, where Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself from Mueller’s investigation, leaving Rosenstein in charge of the probe.
— The Hill (@thehill) December 18, 2017
In an article out today with the headline, “Why Trump Might Fire Rod Rosenstein Instead of Mueller,” New York Magazine reports that “Trump has been raging on and off against Rosenstein for months.”
The publication adds that Trump has “characterized [Rosenstein] as a threat to his presidency,” adding that the president is “suspicious about Rosenstein’s loyalty.”
“Trump has called the attorney general ‘weak’ and complained that Rosenstein has shown insufficient accountability on the special counsel’s work,” The Washington Post reported on Sunday. “A senior official said Trump mocked Rosenstein’s recent testimony on Capitol Hill, saying he looked weak and unable to answer questions.”
When Rosenstein appeared before the House Judiciary Committee last Wednesday, he testified that he saw no good cause to fire Mueller, despite Trump supporters’ relentless complaints on Fox News and elsewhere that the Special Counsel was compromised because some of the FBI agents he employs were found to have made anti-Trump tweets, among other reasons.
Mueller has dismissed any agents or lawyers who appear to have a bias, and Rosenstein has continued to support the Special Counsel as a man of integrity.
When asked about why Mueller was a good choice to be special counsel by Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn), Rosenstein replied, “Based upon his reputation, his service, his patriotism, and his experience with the department and the FBI.”
“When asked what he would do if he were directed to fire Mueller,” reported The Washington Post on December 13, “Rosenstein replied, ‘I would follow the regulation. If there were good cause, I would act. If there were no good cause, I would not.”
That was enough to prove to Trump that Rosenstein was not personally loyal to him, but rather was going to follow the law even if it led to the president’s impeachment.
“The demographic characteristic that has actually raised Trump’s Nixonian suspicions about Rosenstein’s loyalty,” reports New York, “is more likely that he is a Roy Moore’s lawyer-type.”
If Trump did want to get rid of Muller, if only to slow down the investigation – and knowing a political firestorm would erupt – he would have to start by finding someone to replace Rosenstein who would be more pliable to carrying out his orders.
So far Rosenstein is still employed and so is Mueller, while Trump has actually been making optimistic statements about the investigation, suggesting he believes that he is not a target and his lawyers claiming that it will all blow over some time next month.
Trump has been wrong before and so have his lawyers. This is at least the third time they have suggested a date when the Special Counsel will be finished, and each time they have been proven wrong.
If anything, Trump seems to be both impulsive and instinctual, and values loyalty above everything else. What that means is that Trump could at any minute decide he has to fire anyone who threatens his presidency, and that would indeed seem to start with Rosenstein.
“Trump could fire him and keep firing everyone who replaced him until he found someone who would fire Mueller,” Harvard Law professor Jack Goldsmith, former head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, told The Washington Post.
So it may well be that the question is not if Trump will fire Rosenstein, but when, and where that will lead. If the current Congress is still in session, the Republicans could try to block anyone from making Trump pay for firing Rosenstein and then Mueller.
However, if he does that, and Congress turns Democratic after the November 2018 election, Trump could still be held accountable for his actions, which could easily be seen as obstruction of justice – an impeachable charge.
For now, Trump is playing a game of waiting and watching while living in a bubble where his aides and lawyers tell him what he wants to hear.
If reality does intrude, Trump is quite capable of going into a rage and doing whatever he thinks is necessary to protect his presidency.
Despite what Trump’s lawyers are telling him, all signs are that this far from over.