It's no secret that Trump wants to terminate the Mueller investigation and allegedly, he's considered sacking him. This would probably be a terrible move that would lead to his impeachment.

However, Mueller must answer to Rod Rosenstein - this is primarily due to Jeff Session recusing himself from the investigation.

So can Trump just sack Jeff Sessions or Rod Rosenstein and replace him with someone who will do his bidding. We know the public won't accept Mueller getting fired so can't he just install someone who will severely hamper Mueller - refuse him access to subpoena anyone, refuse him ability to release any information etc. All of this stuff can happen outside of the public eye so it would appear there is an independent investigation.

With the intelligence house committee's finding saying there's absolutely no evidence of collusion between Trump-Russia, it sounds like the issue is hyper-partisan and Republicans are happy to shut down this investigation any way they know how so it would look like he would have the support of his party.

So why doesn't he do this? What would be the potential consequence?

  • The answer is in your question: it would almost certainly lead congress to look into impeaching him. – Denis de Bernardy Mar 15 '18 at 21:58
  • 3
    @DenisdeBernardy - why? His party owns both houses and with the release of the findings from the intelligence house committee, it seems they have no interest in any investigation. They seem to just want to keep the public impression that there is one. – Pollman Mar 15 '18 at 22:01
  • I don't think either answer is really knowable. I guess he's saving it for sweeps. – user9389 Mar 15 '18 at 22:13
  • His party owns both houses USA political parties are more loosely organized than parties in other countries and its representatives frequently break voting discipline; a POTUS has considerable influence in his own party but it is not necessarily its leader and cannot count on its unconditional support. – SJuan76 Mar 15 '18 at 23:17
  • @Pollman: In addition to the lack of unconditional partisan support, it's only 8 months until the midterm elections. If special elections are any guide, there seems to be a pretty good chance that his party won't be controlling both houses after that. – jamesqf Mar 16 '18 at 4:06

Hampering Mueller

We know the public won't accept Mueller getting fired so can't he just install someone who will severely hamper Mueller - refuse him access to subpoena anyone, refuse him ability to release any information etc.

But Robert Mueller isn't actually required to get permission to do those things. That's what the independent in independent counsel means. He is himself a prosecutor. He asks a judge for subpoena permission, not anyone in the Justice department.

Even if legally possible, refusing him the ability to release information seems unlikely to succeed. If he has actual information, he could always leak it as James Comey did, either directly or through an intermediary. Or write a letter to Congress and let them leak it.

Replacing people

The new Attorney General would have to pass congressional confirmation and there are enough anti-Trump Republican Senators (John McCain, Ben Sasse, Jeff Flake, Bob Corker) that a candidate would have to pledge to continue the investigation. There are forty-seven Democrats and two independents who would vote against almost any replacement, so it would only take two Republicans to join them to derail a nomination.

Until a new Attorney General is appointed, Rod Rosenstein would be the acting Attorney General. The never-Trump Republicans (and all non-Republicans) would prefer Rosenstein to someone who would fire Mueller.

Donald Trump can't fire Rosenstein directly. He would have to get Jeff Sessions to fire him. Or fire Sessions and then fire Rosenstein. That would make Associate Attorney General Jesse Panuccio the acting Attorney General. The next three are defined by executive order 13787:

(a) United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia;
(b) United States Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina; and
(c) United States Attorney for the Northern District of Texas.

He might have to go down the list looking for someone to fire Mueller. Or even write a new list, although he's still stuck with the list of United States Attorneys.

Potential consequences

We don't know what would happen next. Perhaps Trump continues his charmed existence and his supporters believe him over the media narrative. Perhaps this is just too much and he is impeached or resigns.

It's worth noting that Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton were both guilty of the things of which they were accused. Nixon was forced to resign. Clinton survived because he was guilty of something that wasn't criminal at base (cheating on his wife with an employee). Here, we still don't know if there is actually anything at the bottom of the investigation that relates to Trump himself.

We have Russians with no obvious relationship to Trump being accused of "election interference". We have Americans connected to Trump who are indicted for lying to the FBI about their own behavior and Americans indicted for things prior to the campaign. So far, no one has publicly associated Trump with a criminal act of their own knowledge. People have speculated about it, but the people with actual knowledge have not said so publicly.

Potentially, Trump could be impeached. But potentially it could have no immediate consequence. We won't actually know until it happens. Newt Gingrich was convinced that impeaching Clinton would lead to a Republican landslide in the Congressional elections of 1998. The actual result favored the Democrats slightly. We don't have enough examples of this kind of prosecution to say what would happen. It could go anywhere from nothing to Trump being executed for treason (after his impeachment).

| improve this answer | |
  • Independence does not imply free reign. Independent council's power are restricted by the mandate. If you read the full text of the executive order (issued by Bush) to establish an independent commission to investigate Iraq war, you will see that the powers of the commision were to only examine existing evidence. Its independence only means that they are independent of outside influence or priorities. But it doesn't have an open mandate. Mueller's particular special council was given the mandate to investigate all criminal activity, but it doesn't have to be so broad as to encompass that. – grovkin Mar 16 '18 at 2:24
  • Isn't Mueller a special counsel, not an independent council? Or are they the same thing? – Pollman Mar 16 '18 at 2:40
  • 2
    Regardless of the official title or other investigations, in this particular situation, Mueller obtains subpoenas from a judge, not the Justice department. – Brythan Mar 16 '18 at 3:48

What you are describing to me sounds like one of the things Mueller is investigating, namely obstruction of justice.

It doesn't really matter if Trump's party controls both houses currently. There are still plenty of people in the Republican party who are not big fans of Trump, and all bets are off as far as who is in control come the midterm elections in November. Whether or not this hampering happens within the public eye or not is immaterial, because the Special Counsel would have access to that information by definition and he can bring public charges forward at any time he feels appropriate.

One of the final straws in the Watergate investigation was the so-called Saturday Night Massacre, which was when President Nixon ordered the firing of his special prosecutor Archibald Cox, and both Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus resigned in sequence to protest the order. The next man up was Solictor General Robert Bork and he carried through the President's order. Ultimately a federal district judge ruled the firing illegal, so Nixon sacrificed practically all of his remaining political capital for absolutely nothing. From Wikipedia:

Less than a week after the Saturday Night Massacre, an Oliver Quayle poll for NBC News showed that, for the first time, a plurality of U.S. citizens supported impeaching Nixon, with 44% in favor, 43% opposed, and 13% undecided, with a sampling error of 2 to 3 per cent. In the days that followed, numerous resolutions of impeachment against the president were introduced in Congress.

| improve this answer | |

Replacing Sessions himself would have no effect. Until a new Attorney General is confirmed, the deputy AG would become AG. And deputy AG is Rosenstein -- the man who initiated the special council investigation.

Given how politized the choice of a new AG would become, it is a near guarantee that they would not get confirmed unless they indicated, during the confirmation, that they would continue the investigation. This would be especially exacerbated because Sessions was very highly regarded as a senator amongst Republicans. So firing Sessions would almost certainly gain the President new enemies in his own party.

| improve this answer | |

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .