VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Before we learned about the first charges in Trump-Russia investigation, several right-leaning US media organizations had called for Donald Trump to fire special council Robert Mueller.
Fox News, the New York Post and the Wall Street Journal have all suggested that Mueller’s relationship to former FBI director James Comey makes him too compromised to continue.
But political scientist Paul Quirk, who is the Phil Lind chair in U.S. politics and representation at UBC, says the president lacks the authority to fire Mueller on his own.
“The president can’t do it directly, but he could order it to be done,” he explains. “He might have some complications getting it done, because some of the people he might order to do it might refuse to do it and resign instead.”
Since the top-ranking official at the Department of Justice, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, recused himself from the Russia investigation in March, that order would fall on Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller as special council to begin with.
“It’s widely thought that Rosenstein would refuse to do it, and then [Trump] would have to fire him too,” Quirk says.
Over the weekend, Trump characterized Mueller’s investigation as a “terrible (and bad for our country) witch hunt”. However, Trump’s attorney Jay Sekulow says he hasn’t heard any talk of firing Mueller.
Quirk says such a move would have dire political consequences.
“The Democrats would regard this as grounds for impeachment because they would regard it as clear evidence of an attempt to obstruct the investigation… a lot of people have had the view that this would be a constitutional crisis where the rule of law would really be at risk.”
He adds simply removing the special council would not end the investigation into Trump’s campaign. Likely, a new special council would be appointed, or the FBI and Department of Justice would continue the probe by themselves.
During the Watergate scandal, Richard Nixon was able to fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox, but only after firing his attorney general and deputy attorney general in what became known as the “Saturday night massacre.”