By: JoAnn Smith
The ongoing investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential election has President Trump considering the firing of Robert Mueller, according to several news outlets. In June of 2017, just one month after Mueller was appointed, President Trump ordered the firing of special investigator Robert Mueller, but White House Counsel Don McGahn threatened to quit if the President did so. Democrats have moved to pass legislation to protect Mueller proposed by North Carolina Senator, Thom Tills, but so far, it has not been able to get an up or down vote.
Democrats have been on the record since June 2017 voicing their concerns, but they’re not alone. Republican Representative Trey Gowdy and Senator Bob Corker joined them March 18th, 2018, on Sunday morning shows to tell the President to back off. The next day, Senator Orrin Hatch noted that firing Mueller would be “the stupidest thing the president could do.” Republican Senators John Cornyn and Susan Collins described the potential firing as a “bad idea” and “a terribly serious mistake,” respectively. Strong words from members of the President’s own party.
Trump wants to fire Mueller – he has begun attacking him (by name) on Twitter as the Trump organization has become part of Mueller’s investigation. Even though Republicans have been critical of Trump’s efforts to fire the special investigator, they seem unwilling to pass legislation to back that up. House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are among those who said they have received “reassurance” that Mueller need not be in fear of being fired. Where those reassurances have come from is unclear.
Moreover, firing Mueller would actually be against Trump’s interests. Among the items Mueller is investigating is obstruction of justice. Mueller’s firing, in itself, would amount to obstruction charges. Firing Mueller and shutting down a federal investigation would take going against Department of Justice regulations that say counsel can only be removed for “misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity, conflict of interest, or for other good cause, including violation of Departmental policies.” Mueller has approached the investigation objectively and with integrity. Making the case for obstruction would prove easier than the President may think.
During the Watergate investigations into President Nixon, Democrats were the majority party in the Congress. The fact that the President was of a different party reduced the potential for conflicts of interest. Nixon weathered the storm through the investigation into 1974, but when members of his own party (Senators, Barry Goldwater and Hugh Scott) went public with calls for resignation, Nixon left the White House days later. It took members of Nixon’s own party to get him to do the right thing. The changing climate in Washington has made that type of political courage less common, so legislation to protect Mueller from being fired only makes sense in 2018.