Trump fired FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe twenty-six hours before McCabe was scheduled to retire. Then the Trump team received a request from the Mueller investigation for a wide array of documents. Then Trump went on a Twitter rampage against Mueller, singling out Mueller by name for the first time. Having silenced all the potential witnesses to FBI director James Comey’s firing (which was almost certainly obstruction of justice by Trump) many began speculating that Trump’s next target would be Mueller, a move mirroring the move by Richard Nixon that caused Congress to turn on him and start impeachment hearings.
A constitutional crisis is a terrifying prospect when so many Republicans in Congress have been silent in the face of constant vile statements, vengeful attacks and outright lies by the president. Thus far, they have put the interests of their party over the welfare of the country, and it has been disgraceful. It’s easy to feel horrified about the depths Trump has taken our nation, and anxious that things could get a lot worse, but this is a good time to keep things in perspective. Here are some items to keep in mind.
1 – Trump can’t fire Mueller. He would have to ask assistant Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to fire Mueller, a request that would likely be refused. He would then have to fire Rosenstein and replace him with someone partisan enough to fire Mueller. But if that person had to be brought in from outside the DOJ, that person would face a tough Congressional confirmation. Meanwhile, the firing of Rosenstein would have set off a firestorm of protest from activists like us. This would not be a fast or easy process for Trump.
2 – Even if Trump were ultimately able to fire Mueller, many of the things being investigated have parallel investigations occurring in state courts. Mueller made sure to coordinate with State Attorney Generals like New York’s AG Schneiderman so if the federal investigation were shut down, the state investigations would continue unimpeded.
3 – If Trump tries to pardon key witnesses to keep them from testifying, the same concept applies. Trump can only pardon federal offenses, and many of the people already indicted could be brought up on state charges that cannot be pardoned. So Trump does not have the power to make all of this go away, he can only slow it down.
4 – Trump operates by fear and intimidation, which has a way of making enemies, not friends. And he has so badly abused career law enforcement people who are highly respected and accomplished, like James Comey and Andrew McCabe, that he now has entire agencies of government hating him (CIA, FBI, Justice). These are not people you want working against you.
We don’t know what Mueller has on Trump. It could simply be obstruction of justice, in which case the Republicans in Congress may not feel enough pressure to force Trump out of office, no matter how strong the evidence. However, if Mueller has hard evidence of Russian collusion, or clear-cut money laundering, or any other illegal and morally reprehensible activity, the GOP may have no choice but to turn on Trump like they turned on Nixon. Trump may be a narcissistic sociopath, but it’s not far fetched to hope that most of Congress is not. If they still have some shred of decency or shame, there is a limit to how much damage they will accept from Trump, whom most of them hated and denounced until he won the nomination.
We have a long way to go, and things will almost certainly get worse before they get better. But at the end of this disaster, we the voters are the final check on presidential power. Some have called Trump a “stress-test for democracy” and we are certainly feeling the stress, but we will begin to feel better when our efforts and activism bear fruit, and this November is the time of our first harvest. Our goal is to Fire Faso, so keep up the great work and don’t let the chaos of a corrupt president drain too much energy.