By David Thornton
After rumors swirled a few weeks ago that President Trump was considering firing Mueller, things quieted down. Over the last week, the tension once again seems to be mounting with Trump’s criticism of Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia investigation and the news that Mueller’s investigation is expanding to examine Trump’s business dealings with Russians going back as far as 2008.
In response, the Trump Administration seems to be once again considering the possibility of firing the special counsel, a move that many Republicans argue would be destructive to the already-embattled Trump Administration.
“Congress must make it very clear: Bye-bye Mueller, bye-bye Trump. Otherwise bye-bye Congress 2018. Americans are fed up!” tweeted Richard Painter, President George W. Bush’s ethics lawyer from 2005 to 2007.
Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fl.) agreed. “It would be a mistake to fire Bob Mueller,” Rubio said in The Hill.
The New York Times reported that Team Trump is investigating the investigators with an eye toward building a case for firing Mueller or simply discrediting his probe. President Trump told the Times that he was aware that some of Mueller’s investigators had conflicts of interest and that he would make this information available “at some point.” Members of Mueller’s team have come under criticism already for their contributions to Democrats.
There are also reports that the Trump Administration is exploring the use of pardons to stymie the Mueller investigation. The Washington Post reported that the president had asked legal advisors about his presidential power to pardon aides and family members who might be snared by Mueller’s net. The president even asked whether he could pardon himself.
“This is not in the context of, ‘I can’t wait to pardon myself,’” said one unnamed advisor, who said that the president’s questions were merely expressing curiosity about the extent of his constitutional powers.
President Trump has been fiercely protective of his privacy as it relates to his business dealings and personal finances. During the campaign, after initially promising to release his tax returns, he became the first president in decades to keep his tax records private.
The Trump Administration has resisted the Russia investigation every step of the way, with Trump denying for months that Russia had even attempted to affect the election. The stonewalling has contributed to continual drip of revelations about contacts between Trump campaign officials and Russians. Although it isn’t clear if any laws were broken, the cover-up and lack of cooperation and openness from the Trump Administration makes it seem as if the president has something to hide.
The Administration’s efforts to keep its connections with Russia concealed and Mueller’s directive to bring them into the open set the stage for a confrontation between the two. If Trump is set on preserving his privacy and protecting members of his staff from possible prosecution, then sooner or later he will have to take action against Mueller. The resulting kerfuffle is likely to make the firing of James Comey seem tame by comparison.