3 Tweets Explain Likelihood of President Trump Firing the Special Counsel

June 13th 2017

Mike Rothschild

The investigation into the Trump campaign's involvement with Russia continues to be the dominant story in both media and government. Recently, President Donald Trump's surrogate and friend Christopher Ruddy went on both PBS and CNN with a shocking announcement.

He revealed that Trump was thinking of possibly firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Ruddy, the CEO of ultra-conservative news outlet Newsmax, told CNN's Chris Cuomo of Trump possibly sacking Mueller, "I think it is a consideration the president has had because Mueller is illegitimate as special counsel." Then, referencing fired FBI Director James Comey's Senate testimony last week, Ruddy told Cuomo, "Chris, remember there is no evidence of wrongdoing, there's no evidence of collusion, there's no evidence of obstruction."

Mueller had been appointed as Special Counsel by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to serve as an independent investigator into collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. Mueller's powers give him the ability to issue subpoenas, compel testimony, and if he finds appropriate grounds, file criminal charges.

Ruddy's statement came on the heels of other tweets by Trump surrogates declaring that Comey's testimony had somehow "proven" that Trump wasn't under investigation, so Mueller should be fired.

However, it's not clear if Trump is currently being investigated, and the details of any such investigation would be classified.

Put all together, it made for a troubling narrative: an embattled president looking to protect himself by abusing his power. Headlines blared that if Trump were to take action against Mueller, he should be impeached, and even predicting that Republicans would have no choice but to start the impeachment process — despite the GOP having shown virtually no interest in reining Trump in on anything.

However, there was also a strain of experts on social media stressing that even for Trump, firing Mueller might be a bridge too far, and would force Congress to act.

Clint Watts, a national security expert who had previously testified to Congress regarding Russian espionage, summed up Trump's potential ambivalence in three tweets:

Beyond the talk of whether or not Trump would fire Mueller, which was denied by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, there are legal issues about whether Trump can even do it.

According to Harvard law professor Jack Goldsmith, writing on the influential blog Lawfare, because Mueller was appointed by the deputy attorney general, U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) regulations mandate that he can only be fired by the same person, and only with cause.

"Trump could order Rosenstein to fire Mueller. Rosenstein would then have to decide whether he believed the reasons Trump gave were adequate under the regulation. If so, he could carry out the order. If not, and if he refused to do it, Trump could fire him — or he might simply resign in the face of Trump’s order," Goldsmith wrote.

This would trigger a cascade of reactions, and could lead to Trump having to fire more DOJ staffers. Or Trump could try to circumvent the regulations and just fire Mueller himself — blowing through a line even former President Richard Nixon never crossed, and setting the stage for what Goldsmith calls "interesting" litigation.

It's not clear what Trump intends to do, and whether Ruddy's comment was a glimpse into the president's thinking, or a trial balloon to measure the reaction to a potential firing, and what action the GOP Congress might take (assuming they take any).

But in Senate testimony Tuesday morning, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein made it clear that not only was he not planning to fire Mueller, but that he would only follow an order to do so if it were "lawful and appropriate." Rosenstein also emphasized that so far, Mueller had provided no cause for firing.