Everyone seems to agree that Special Counsel Robert Mueller will be fired by President Trump at some point, perhaps this week. We’re also in general agreement about how such a decision would spark a wide-reaching constitutional crisis that could include Trump going Full Erdogan and conducting mass arrests against an alleged deep-state coup.
All of the preparations are being made including and especially the crucial messaging to the 35 percenters — the seemingly immovable Trump loyalists who, at least for now, appear to be wagging the Republican Party dog. Fox News and AM talk radio hosts are collectively softening the ground by convincing their easily-led audiences that Mueller is a Democratic Party operative who’s acting on some kind of vendetta against Trump by perpetuating a hoax. And now, with Trump’s lawyers screeching about thousands of Trump-transition-era emails being acquired from the Government Services Administration (GSA), the threat against Mueller has reached stratospheric heights.
We also know that Fox News is a Trump echo-chamber, both talking directly to and advising the president, the network’s audience-of-one, while also framing his dementia and warped despotism as somehow presidential and undeniably successful. All of the pieces seem to be falling into place, leading us to the inevitable conclusion that Mueller is toast.
However, when asked whether he was planning to shit-can the special counsel on Sunday, Trump snapped, “No, I’m not.”
If you’re first reaction was, That means he’s definitely firing Mueller soon, you nailed it. The trick here, regarding Sunday’s denial, is that he can’t legally fire Mueller, but he can absolutely fire Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General who, following Jeff Sessions’ recusal, became the Justice Department’s designated overseer of the special counsel’s office. And, of course, Rosenstein is the only official who can directly shut-down the Mueller investigation. That said, Rosenstein told the House Judiciary Committee last week that he has full confidence in the special counsel.
So, if Trump wants to fire Mueller, it’ll have to be through his own version of Nixon’s “Saturday Night Massacre” in which he orders Rosenstein to fire Mueller. When Rosenstein refuses (the obvious reaction), Trump will fire Rosenstein, and then he’ll order Rosenstein’s likely replacement, Associate AG Rachel Brand, to fire Mueller instead. If she refuses to fire Mueller, then Trump could fire her, replacing Brand with Solicitor General Noel Francisco, and so on and so on.
Another option for Trump is to merely replace Rosenstein with a new deputy AG who’s hand-picked by Trump from the outside and who pledges an oath to Trump that he or she would fire Mueller upon being sworn in. One way or another, Trump can look his loyalists in the eye and say he didn’t fire Mueller, and, crazily enough, they’ll buy it. Appointing an outside replacement for Rosenstein, however, will be a tough climb given that even the Senate Republicans will balk at replacing Rosenstein with any nominee who might fire Mueller.
No matter what Trump’s mindset is right now, he’s capable of anything because, as we’ve been observing for months, Trump exists in the eternal now. Whatever occurred before is irrelevant, as are future repercussions. It’s episodic to him, rather than serialized. This leads me to believe that Trump’s “No, I’m not” hesitance to admit he wants to destroy the Trump-Russia investigation has little to do with a genuine concern about the political and constitutional ramifications. It seemed more like a slippery and momentary dodge than a genuine decision to allow Mueller to continue uninterrupted.
Perhaps we’re also observing, here, Biff’s childish Lethal Weapon concept of political strategy in which he thinks being the unhinged, unpredictable Riggs contrasted against Rosenstein’s pro-Mueller “I’m Too Old For This Shit” Murtaugh is a winning path forward for him — as if the process of keeping us all guessing about the crazy president will somehow augment his control over the national conversation. This might work to a certain extent in Trump’s former world of reality show television and supermartket tabloids, but as a sensible plan for mitigating his own legal jeopardy it serves to highlight Trump as an erratic, destabilizing monster capable of abusing his power as a means of enforcing his emerging authoritarian stranglehold on the western world. Simply put: it makes him seem guiltier by the day.
All told, it’s possible that Trump believes the undermining of Mueller might be a better way to proceed than to literally fire him. It avoids an ugly constitutional crisis, builds his brand as an unpredictable troll and still undermines both the authority and ramifications of Mueller’s inquisition. But it’s a temporary plan that could be abandoned at any second if and when Trump determines that Mueller’s process is continuing uninterrupted and that Mueller’s reach is getting too close to Trump’s face. Bottom line: anything can happen. Trump, by mandate, is all about chaos and disruption.