In what could be the beginning of a move to slow or stop the investigation by the special counsel, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters today when asked if the president has the power to fire Robert Mueller, that he believes he does.
“We’ve been advised that the president certainly has the power to make that decision,” said Sanders, without expanding on what that means or whether he plans to act soon.
Sarah Sanders: Trump “certainly believes he has the power“ to fire Robert Mueller. (via ABC) pic.twitter.com/qtysO8K2pF
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) April 10, 2018
Sanders’ comment is technically incorrect, although there is a path that the president could take to achieve that objective.
Mueller can be fired by the Justice Department, which appointed him.
He is not an independent counsel, as Ken Starr was in the 1990s when he investigated then-President Bill Clinton leading to an unsuccessful impeachment attempt.
The law was changed thereafter and now a special counsel works under the Justice Department, which provides him money, resources, and access to the FBI.
Since Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself from the investigation, that means it would fall on his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, to fire Mueller.
It Rosenstein refuses, which appears to be a real possibility, Trump would first have to order Sessions to fire Rosenstein, and then replace him with a person who would agree to do the president’s bidding.
It has been reported that Trump seriously considered firing Rosenstein in January but was stopped by White House lawyer Don McGhan. Two sources said Trump wanted to get rid of Rosenstein, per reporting by the New York Times and CNN.
“Let’s fire him, let’s get rid of him,” Trump has reportedly said of Rosenstein.
Since January, things have gotten a lot more heated and it would be harder for Trump to act now without causing what some are predicting would be a “constitutional crisis,” not just among Democrats but also with members of the Republican Party.
Exactly what would happen if Trump did first fire Mueller, with the assistance of Rosenstein or a successor, is unclear, but it would be a public relations nightmare from which the president might never wake up.
Trump’s problem with Mueller now is that it is not just about whether he colluded with Russia but also if he is guilty of obstruction of justice for firing FBI Director James Comey, and now whether he is guilty of various campaign violations related to the Stormy Daniels scandal.
If Trump fires Mueller, he could slow down the investigation but that might give Democrats the fodder they need to take back control of the House and possibly the Senate, and the first item on the agenda next January would be to renew the investigation at a much higher level, which could be a problem that the president will not be able to make go away.