I mean, apart from the fact that it’s probably true. Wanting to fire Mueller despite the fact that it would trigger a political Chernobyl seems like a fairly predictable Trumpian impulse, one which “almost everyone” around him is begging him not to indulge. The question is why Newsmax chief Chris Ruddy was on PBS last night broadcasting Trump’s intentions to the world:
— PBS NewsHour (@NewsHour) June 12, 2017
Sean Spicer rushed out a statement afterward denying that Trump had spoken to Ruddy about Mueller. That annoyed Ruddy:
“Spicer issued a bizarre late night press release that a) doesn’t deny my claim the President is considering firing Mueller and b) says I didn’t speak to the President about the matter — when I never claimed to have done so. Memo to Sean: focus your efforts on exposing the flim-flam Russian allegations against POTUS and highlighting his remarkable achievements! Don’t waste time trying to undermine one of your few allies.”
One theory is that Ruddy was floating a trial balloon, to see how Trump’s base would react to the thought of firing the special counsel. But that doesn’t make sense. Of course they’ll back Trump to the hilt, as they always do. Newt Gingrich was on ABC this morning calling Mueller’s team “bad people”; Sean Hannity opened his program last night by calling for the Mueller probe to be “shut down.” Trump mouthpieces are already on-message. Their fans will follow, which makes a trial balloon unnecessary.
Another theory is that Ruddy was trying to warn Trump about the disastrous blowback that would follow if he canned Mueller and knew that he’d pay attention if that warning came via TV. That doesn’t completely add up either — if Trump’s inner circle is almost unanimously warning him not to fire Mueller, what good would a televised appeal from Ruddy do? But maybe there’s something to it. Ruddy’s interview did trigger a minor panic this morning among political media; if nothing else, that sneak preview of how they’d react to Mueller’s termination will disabuse Trump of any ideas that firing Mueller might be no big deal. Remember, Trump supposedly thought Democrats would applaud his firing of Comey because of Emailgate. He’s fully capable of grossly misjudging how a controversial move will be received. This could be Ruddy’s attempt at a reality check for the president.
Meanwhile, in Congress:
If President fired Bob Mueller, Congress would immediately re-establish independent counsel and appoint Bob Mueller. Don't waste our time.
— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) June 12, 2017
I’m … pretty sure you’d need a few Republican votes to make that happen, bro. Quite a lot of them, in fact, since Trump would veto anything that made it through and proponents would then need two-thirds of both houses to achieve a veto override. What makes this guy, a top Democrat(!), think that the usually prostrate Republicans in Congress would defy Trump and piss off his voters, knowing they’ll be accused of “collaborating with the enemy” or “aiding and abetting the deep state” or whatever? Same goes for Jack Goldsmith:
There is no doubt that firing Mueller would cause a backlash in Congress. The question is how much of one, and specifically, would it be enough to cause Republican leadership to intervene strongly with the President, and ultimately with impeachment? The answer depends on the reasons Trump gives for firing Mueller, the manner in which he does it, the precise reaction in DOJ, and what the nation’s reaction is. If Congress does not check the President, that leaves only the midterm or presidential elections, or possibly a 25th Amendment solution, as ways to stand up to the President. That may seem a depressing conclusion. But I predict it would not come to that. If the crazy scenario that got me to this point in the hypothetical decision chain materializes, Congress would rise up quickly to stop the President, and the pressure on the cabinet would be enormous as well. If I am naive in thinking this, then we are indeed in trouble.
He’s very, very naive in thinking that. Although I do think there’d be resignations galore: Rod Rosenstein would certainly resign, as probably would Rachel Brand and Dana Boente, the next two DOJ officials in the line of succession. Would Jeff Sessions? Either way, there’d be total chaos in the Justice Department. The best case for firing Mueller, I think, is that the fallout would be hugely revealing about the basic character of all sorts of important people in Washington. It’s arguably worth doing for that reason alone.
One last possibility for Ruddy’s TV appearance, via Josh Barro. Maybe Ruddy, knowing that Trump needs to appear dominant even when (or especially when) he can’t exercise dominance, was trying to soothe Trump by touting the fact that he could have Mueller removed knowing full well that the political realities make that almost impossible. Reminding voters that Mueller is Trump’s subordinate might placate Trump enough to dissuade him from pulling the trigger and creating a crisis. If so, it’s sad that the president needs his ego massaged that way, but if it avoids a confrontation over the independence of the DOJ, it’s a price worth paying.
I continue to wonder when we’re going to move away from the “fire everyone” approach to Trump’s Russiagate problems and towards the inevitable “pardon everyone” approach instead. Maybe next week. Exit question: Trumpers are pointing to the news that some of Mueller’s deputies have donated big bucks to Democrats as proof that he’s in the tank against the White House. If that’s true, why did Trump reportedly consider bringing Mueller back to head the FBI after Comey was fired, as Ruddy alleges here?
Update: Like I say, canning Mueller almost certainly means losing Rosenstein too:
At congressional hearing, Deputy AG Rosenstein just told senators said he sees no reason for firing Robert Mueller as Special Counsel
— Bradd Jaffy (@BraddJaffy) June 13, 2017
Asked if he would fire Mueller it Trump orders it, Rosenstein says he won't follow any orders if he doesn't think they are lawful.
— Michael McAuliff (@mmcauliff) June 13, 2017