White House

The Dumbest Firing

Robert Mueller on Capitol Hill in 2013. (Larry Downing/Reuters)
Firing Mueller wouldn’t end the investigation. It would raise more questions.

Unsurprisingly for the former host of The Apprentice, Donald Trump has given us every variety of firing.

There have been necessary firings (at three weeks, the ouster of Michael Flynn was long overdue), cruel firings (Rex Tillerson, check out Twitter), and spectacularly ill-advised firings (the cashiering of James Comey that led directly to the hiring of Robert Mueller).

Now, with Trump frontally attacking the special counsel, there is speculation that the president will deliver his worst firing yet. Moving against Mueller would make the axing of Comey look like a shrewd play. It would likely fail to achieve its objectives and backfire politically, while — as far as we know at the moment — not even being necessary to trying to cover up a corrupt election bargain with the Russians.

At this juncture, the original justification for the special-counsel probe, alleged collusion with the Russians, appears to be fading over the horizon. Mueller hasn’t charged anyone with crimes related to collusion, even figures who would presumably be central to any conspiracy, including Flynn and Paul Manafort. Absent collusion, an obstruction case is likely to be attenuated — what was Trump’s corrupt motive? — and not result in his impeachment and removal or criminal charges.

Even if Trump is dead set on ending the investigation, firing Mueller may not achieve it. The Office of Special Counsel doesn’t simply vaporize without Mueller at its head. Someone would take his place, unless Trump directly ordered that the entire investigation be terminated. Such a move would roil the Department of Justice more than just removing Mueller and almost certainly become the basis of impeachment charges if Democrats took the House in the fall.

And it would make that outcome more likely. Democrats already hate and fear Trump, the factor that has been driving Democratic turnout in special elections and threatens to swamp the GOP House majority in the fall. Shutting down a legitimately constituted investigation into his campaign and White House would make an insanely motivated (and often simply insane) opposition even more so.

If Trump doesn’t like the press coverage of Mueller’s investigation now, wait until he sees the press coverage of his firing and whatever comes next. Mueller would supplant Comey as the sainted martyr of the Trump era. Any litigation over his firing would get wall-to-wall coverage. And whatever Mueller has learned would certainly make it into the hands of Congress and end up plastered in the nation’s newspapers.

If Trump doesn’t like the press coverage of Mueller’s investigation now, wait until he sees the press coverage of his firing and whatever comes next.

The timing doesn’t make sense, either. Having spent a year cooperating with Mueller, why fire him now, when he might not be wrapping up but has probably already done the lion’s share of his work?

Moving at this point would be rational only if Trump feared some thermonuclear revelation that wouldn’t be survivable. It’s not clear what, in the current news and political environment, that would be. Everything is so perishable, and Trump has such a strong hold on his party’s base, he could presumably weather almost anything. Back in the halcyon 1990s, Bill Clinton proved how quickly people can acclimate to an unthinkable scandal and how a political party will defend almost anything if it involves the fate of an elected president.

None of this is to say that there aren’t legitimate grounds for complaint about Mueller. He was supposed to be hunting down collusion with Russia and has instead been prosecuting violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act that normally don’t result in criminal charges. There are legitimate questions about how the Russian investigation began, and a second special counsel to examine the conduct of the FBI in 2016 may be in the offing (the firing of FBI official Andrew McCabe on the advice of professionals at the bureau suggests more revelations to come).

There is one sure way to overshadow any of these questions and ensure a more portentous investigation, and that’s to undertake the worst of all firings.

© 2018 by King Features Syndicate


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