If Donald Trump fires special counsel Robert Mueller, as he is reported to want to do, it will essentially be the president saying that the rule of law does not apply to him. It will also basically be a confession by Trump and anyone who remains an ally in this endeavor that they believe the president did something wrong and possibly illegal. Why else would they go to such an extraordinary step to try to stop the only remaining truly independent investigation into possible crimes stemming from Russia’s cyberattack on the United States?
If Trump does this, he may need a better excuse than “I don’t want to get in trouble.” After all, he will ultimately presumably have to attempt to justify this action to the Republican leadership in Congress and ultimately the public (unless he’s banking on Russians to bail him and his party out by stealing future elections). This task has become all the more urgent since it was reported on Wednesday by the Washington Post what anyone who watched former FBI Director Jim Comey’s testimony last week already could have gamed out—Trump is under investigation for possible obstruction of justice.
As such, Trump and his allies are attempting to lay the groundwork for getting rid of Mueller, a man first appointed by Republican President George W. Bush as FBI Director and subsequently appointed as special counsel by Trump’s own Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. The arguments that Trump advocates are using to attack one of the most respected cops and prosecutors in the country are pretty weak.
Here is the case Trump World is making for firing Mueller and why each prong is so utterly bogus. (None of which is to say that it won’t work with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and the rest of the Republican Party.)
1. There’s No Evidence of Collusion, So They’re Making Up an Obstruction Charge
The president took to Twitter on Thursday morning to make this case:
The problem with this argument—of course—is that we don’t know if there’s any proof of collusion or not! And we won’t know until the investigators are allowed to do their work. We don’t know, because the FBI investigation into this issue is ongoing, these things take time, and even if there was already proof investigators wouldn’t be able to tell us. So there might be proof! That’s why we need the investigation to find out. But Donald Trump has already confessed that he’s tried to block that investigation with the concrete step of firing FBI Director James Comey, who subsequently produced evidence that this is precisely what Trump was trying to do. Hence the obstruction of justice.
2. Robert Mueller Is a Deep State Agent Bent on Destroying Donald Trump
Newt Gingrich was one of the first people to suggest that Mueller had to go. He reiterated that case on Thursday on Twitter, arguing that Mueller’s investigation is part of a “deep state” plot to undermine and maybe destroy the president:
So, I guess this argument goes that because the former FBI director was for years the country’s top law enforcement agent, he is part of some dark behind-the-scenes force pulling the strings to do bad stuff to the country. So now he’s come out of government retirement to frame the president for obstruction of justice in order to do the bad thing of harming the Trump presidency, because that’s how Robert Mueller gets his kicks.
Taking that on its face, if Robert Mueller—and his successor at the FBI, James Comey, for that matter—are doing all this to frame the most powerful person in the land, they should surely be prosecuted for such crimes! Why isn’t Newt calling for that, rather than just hinting he should be fired? Also, if they are willing to do this to the president, who else did they try to frame up during their 16 collective years respectively as the nation’s top cops? Did they frame Osama Bin Laden for 9/11, as Trump supporter and “deep state” conspiracy theory purveyor Alex Jones has argued? If so, that would be another serious caper by Comey and Mueller that President Trump’s independent DOJ should investigate! If not, then this other particular conspiracy theory by Gingrich is also nonsense.
3. Robert Mueller’s Investigation Is Sprawling Out of Control
This is another argument made by Gingrich, apparently based on the last line in the latest New York Times report on the Mueller intrigue: “A former senior official said Mr. Mueller’s investigation was looking at money laundering by Trump associates.”
This apparently prompted Gingrich to tweet:
Gingrich, remember, is the former speaker of the House who spearheaded an impeachment campaign of a sitting president for allegedly lying under oath and obstructing justice to try to cover up oral sex. That “dragnet of obstruction” stemmed from a special prosecutor investigation that was originally focused on a land deal called Whitewater where no wrongdoing was ever ultimately found. Again, it still led to the impeachment of a president by Gingrich’s Congress.
Even if you were to accept Gingrich’s premise that the same standard should not apply to Democratic presidents as it does to Republican presidents, nailing Trump for something unrelated to Russia is not even what’s being discussed here. Trump is under investigation for potentially obstructing the investigation into Russia. That is still very closely related to the investigation into Russia. Additionally, the Times made clear the reason Mueller is looking at money laundering: “The suspicion is that any cooperation with Russian officials would most likely have been in exchange for some kind of financial payoff, and that there would have been an effort to hide the payments, probably by routing them through offshore banking centers.” That also seems pretty closely related to Russia!
4. Robert Mueller Is a Very Bad Man
Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, was laying the groundwork for this case in an interview on Fox Business channel as early as Tuesday morning. “Get rid of Mueller!” Gohmert said. “He is dirty. He created all kinds of problems.”
On Thursday, Trump echoed these sentiments:
Gohmert’s reasoning for the argument that Mueller is “dirty”—a serious charge that maybe should lead to an investigation of some of his old casework when he was FBI director—is that Comey and Mueller worked together under Bush when the former was the Republican president’s deputy attorney general.
“Comey created an opportunity by leaking and possibly committing a crime by colluding with others in the Department of Justice, and Mueller was his good friend,” Gohmert said. “I had no idea how dirty this mess was involving Comey and Mueller over the years.”
There is no evidence that Comey committed any crime, and I have no idea what “colluding with others in the Department of Justice” could possibly mean. Again, though, if Comey and Mueller are working together to frame the most powerful man in the country—in the case of Comey, taking the step of pre-emptively cooking up false contemporaneous notes of meetings with the president to make him look guilty—who knows what else they are capable of? Maybe Trump’s DOJ should put them away for a long time if they’re doing all this. Since I don’t see Gohmert or Gingrich advocating for that, they don’t seem to have the courage of their convictions.
Of course, the alternative is that Mueller has been one of the most respected—on both sides of the aisle—Republican-appointed law enforcement officers in the country and he’s just doing his job wherever the facts lead. Or in the words just 30 days ago of one of Mueller’s fiercest critics:
If Gingrich had any honesty or integrity whatsoever, he would heed his own advice.