Today, special counsel Robert Mueller released his first indictments in the ongoing Russia scandal, beginning with Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his business partner, Rick Gates, as well as the confirmation that former Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopolous secretly pled guilty to collusion earlier this month. Like many who’ve been following this story since Mueller’s appointment in May, I’m so excited about what could come that it’s taking all my energy to not go full Oprah and scream, “YOU get an indictment! And YOU get an indictment! EVERYBODY – GETS – AN – INDICTMENT!”
Much of this comes from the very real danger that Trump may fire Mueller, and if our President’s TV-watching habits are to be believed, it could happen sooner than we think. Over the past few days, Fox News has gone all-out against Mueller and Hillary Clinton (for the discredited “scandals” involving Uranium One and DNC funding of the Steele Dossier) in an attempt to reach the President. It’s not as far-fetched as it sounds: as this article from Politico documents, Trump often times his statements to what he’s last seen or heard on cable news. And the effect that Fox News has on him, and on us, could strike a fatal blow at our democracy if its efforts to sway him succeed.
Starting on Thursday, the Rupert Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal wrote an editorial that went after Mueller in the wake of the Steele Dossier revelations. Since the FBI reportedly offered to pay for Christopher Steele to conduct research, but then reneged on the offer, it raises the question that the separate investigation, funded by DNC money, would create a conflict of interest for Mueller, formerly head of the FBI before James Comey, in conducting his investigation. The editorial stated:
“The Fusion news means the FBI’s role in Russia’s election interference must now be investigated—even as the FBI and Justice insist that Mr. Mueller’s probe prevents them from cooperating with Congressional investigators. Mr. Mueller is a former FBI director, and for years he worked closely with Mr. Comey. It is no slur against Mr. Mueller’s integrity to say that he lacks the critical distance to conduct a credible probe of the bureau he ran for a dozen years. He could best serve the country by resigning to prevent further political turmoil over that conflict of interest.”
These talking points were echoed this Friday on Fox News. Republican Representative Trent Franks of Arizona said that Mueller was “compromised” by his conflict of interest, and disgraced New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who still has not given up his position as Trump’s lapdog, said, “”If the facts [concerning the FBI and the Dossier] you laid out are true, then somebody with Bob Mueller’s integrity should step aside.” That same day, Trump tweeted out this:
Workers of firm involved with the discredited and Fake Dossier take the 5th. Who paid for it, Russia, the FBI or the Dems (or all)?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 19, 2017
Fox News continued their disinformation campaign this weekend, when Rep. Trey Gowdy, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, slammed Mueller for claiming he was ready to bring his first indictments. “I stressed to him the importance of cutting out the leaks,” Gowdy said on Fox News Sunday. “It’s kind of ironic that the people charged with investigating the law and the violations of the law would violate the law.”
It’s a grand irony that Republicans only care about leaks when it’s happening to their side. Twenty years ago, Ken Star’s investigation into President Clinton’s indiscretions was one of the leakiest on record, many coming directly from the Office of the Independent Counsel. The Republicans barely did anything about it then, because they were the ones attempting to bring down a President for fooling around with an intern (while they were all secretly having affairs.) Now they’re the ones attempting to play the president’s hand into letting this grave constitutional crisis fall by the wayside.
According to ACLU legal director David Cole, Trump can’t simply fire Mueller because he doesn’t like what he’s doing: there would have to be a proven conflict of interest in how he’s conducting the investigation. And even then, Trump himself would not necessarily have the final say-so. That would fall to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein (since Jeff Sessions has recused himself), and Rosenstein said in his confirmation hearings that he would not act on orders he disagreed with. That said, if Rosenstein refuses, there could be someone far worse down the line who obeys him, just as there was when Richard Nixon’s Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General refused to act on his order to fire Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox, so we can’t invest too much stock in this option. (That “someone far worse” was Robert Bork, later to fail his confirmation hearing for the Supreme Court under President Reagan.)
All this is to ask: what happens if Trump listens to the spin and fires Mueller? How do we as citizens prepare for the worst?
First, as always, call you Congresspersons and Senators, regardless of party, and tell them that they must release statements saying that they will not stand for such a clear abuse of power. A few Senators have already stood up to Trump in ways that earned them admiration from both sides of the aisle – Collins, Murkowski, McCain, Corker, Flake. Even Lindsey Graham has said firing Mueller would be a “disaster.” Call them and tell them that it’s time Congress started acting as a check on the President’s power. If you want a list of other people to call or pressure, and you live in their states, read Nate Silver’s piece today on who controls the levers of power in this situation.
Second, prepare to march. MoveOn.org is planning an emergency march either today or tomorrow, should the firing occur, called Nobody is Above the Law. There will be one in every single state either between the hours of 2 and 5 PM today, or tomorrow at noon. I am sure you are as sick of hearing these two answers as I am, but there’s a reason I keep giving them: they work. Because of the pressure we put on Senators, we saved our healthcare last summer, and we did it again in September. Civic unrest works. Let this government know that you, as an American citizen, will not abide its lurching steps towards fascism.
It’s nice to believe that Robert Mueller will save us, but it is not wise: we have to save us. And that starts by understanding both the rules of law and civic disobedience to pull our country through this most terrifying and divisive of moments.