For all my friends who think I have finally gone off the deep end, I really do not want Special Counsel Robert Mueller to be fired. I do think the firing of Mueller, if it happens, may be the only way to end the tyranny of President Donald Trump.
Trump has already fired FBI Director James Comey, as well as releasing National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and Press Secretary Sean Spicer. This does not include a half dozen lesser-known officials who have been shown the door in the first six months of Trump’s presidency. Nor does it include the likely departures of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and Special Counsel Mueller.
Trump fired Comey out of fear of where the Russian investigation was headed, although he told the public that Comey had lost the confidence of FBI employees. There was no evidence to support that. Trump told Russian officials in the Oval Office that Comey was fired because “he was crazy, a real nut job. I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken care of.” Or, so he thought!
Terminating Mueller would mean that the two highest-ranking officials investigating the Russian influence in the 2016 election were fired. If Mueller is fired, Republicans will quickly distance themselves from Trump, something they should have done long ago. Democrats will clamor for Trump’s impeachment.
The American public will be asking why Trump fired both Comey and Mueller. What did he have to fear? What was hiding in his financial records that might demonstrate Trump’s ties to Russian government and business?
If Trump has nothing to hide, as he has maintained from the beginning, then why stop the investigations? What could be better for Trump than to be given a clean bill of health by one of the most respected individuals in government? If that were to happen, I could envision Trump’s early morning tweet: “I told you so. What a waste of taxpayer’s time and money. I have been completely exonerated.”
A clean bill from Mueller would do more to help Trump than anything imaginable. Mueller is a decorated Vietnam veteran, a respected attorney, and appointed by Republican president George W. Bush as Director of the FBI in 2001. Mueller served the full ten-year term and stayed on for two additional years at the request of President Obama.
Not only is Mueller universally admired by both Republicans and Democrats, but he is more trusted by the American public than is the president. 64 percent of Americans said, “Donald Trump is more concerned about protecting his administration from being investigated,” than “protecting the United States from Russian interference.” When asked if President Trump should stop the investigation by the Special Counsel, 81 percent said no.
The attacks on Mueller are two-pronged. First, Trump has attacked the scope of the investigation. Trump told The New York Times that if Mueller looks at anything involving his business dealings, “that’s a violation.”
Trump Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told the media that “the investigation should stay within the confines of Russian meddling in the election. Nothing beyond that.”
Both Trump and Sanders fail to recognize that Mueller’s mandate was given to him by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein who appointed Mueller to his position. Rosenstein stated that Mueller had the authority to look into “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign.”
The second attack on Mueller relates to potential “conflicts of interest.” Trump argues that the day before Mueller was appointed Special Counsel he was being interviewed to head the FBI. “He wanted the job,” said Trump. Even if he did, I am not sure how this constitutes a conflict of interest.
The Justice Department regulations do allow the Special Counsel to be fired for “conflict of interest,” as well as “misconduct, dereliction of duty and incapacity.” Rosenstein has stated he sees no grounds for removing Mueller.
During the debate at the Constitutional Convention on impeachment, George Mason of Virginia asked whether “any man be above the law.” Future president James Madison included some of the grounds for impeachment, including that the president “might betray his trust to a foreign power.” (Now known as the Trump Provision.)
If Trump is wise, he will let the Mueller investigation run its course. Wisdom has not been one of Trump’s strengths during his first six months in office.
Trump could fire Mueller, and that would lead to a constitutional crisis. Perhaps nothing could be done to unify the nation or the political parties more than Trump acting like Caesar.
Trump and his advisors are looking at whether he can pardon himself and family members. Although there is no precedent for this, Trump is not likely to find this a successful path.
If, as Trump has repeatedly stated, there is no substance to the allegation of collusion with the Russians, then let Mueller complete his investigation and issue his findings.
If there is something that would indicate collusion between Trump and the Russians, then Trump would be best advised to step aside and let Vice President Mike Pence assume office.
To a great extent, Trump may have one last chance to “make America great again.”
Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg specializing in Florida Politics and Elections.