Yeah, increasingly it seems like whether or not we end up in a national clusterfark over the president’s power to fire the special counsel depends on whether Mueller stays in his lane by focusing on Russia and possible collusion. If he does, the optics of Trump firing him would be terrible, and not just to Democrats.

Americans in 99 congressional battleground districts – primarily represented by Republicans – would disapprove by a two-to-one margin if President Trump fires Russia special counsel Robert Mueller…

According to the survey, 44% said they would “strongly” disapprove of Trump firing Mueller…

According to the survey, if Trump were to fire Mueller, an even greater percentage of Americans, 67%, would support having Congress establish a special prosecutor whom Trump could not fire.

That’s from a poll sponsored by liberal groups, but sift through the discouraging rhetoric from congressional Republicans over the past month about Trump firing Mueller and it’s plain that this would open a rift on the right. Even if a majority of Republicans rallied around the president (which I’m sure they would), the combination of unanimous Democratic opposition, likely majority independent opposition, and minority Republican opposition would put Trump in a deep hole politically for canning the special counsel — as I say, if he sticks to investigating Russia.

If, on the other hand, Mueller starts to veer off into unconnected matters — Trump family finances, for instance, as yesterday’s reports suggested — then the issue will be more closely run. Democratic support for Mueller will still be unanimous but I think rank-and-file Republicans will unite more strongly behind Trump. The “witch hunt” charge will get more traction; independents will be more conflicted too. Congressional Republicans will be jammed up, on the one hand not wanting to go to bat for the president in case Mueller really has found evidence of crimes unrelated to Russia but on the other hand not wanting to support a runaway grand jury led by a prosecutor who appears to have exceeded the bounds of his charge. Case in point: What if Mueller starts investigating this?

According to a recent story by ProPublica and the Real Deal, in April 2016 a limited liability company managed by Trump sold two condominium apartments to a limited liability company managed by Eric Trump. They were on the 13th and 14th floors of a 14-story, full-service, doorman building at 100 Central Park South in Manhattan. This is a prime Midtown neighborhood, yet the sale price for each condo was just $350,000. Although the condition and square footage of apartments 13G and 14G are not readily known, a popular real estate website shows that G-line apartments on both the fifth and eighth floors are one-bedroom, one-bath units of just over 500 square feet. Two years before the Trump transaction, apartment 5G sold for $690,000. Maybe the two units in question were in terrible shape, but two months before the sale to Eric Trump’s LLC, they were advertised for $790,000 (on the 13th floor) and $800,000 (on the 14th floor), according to ProPublica.

If a sale between a parent and child is for fair market value, it does not trigger a gift tax. But if a parent sells two expensive condominiums to his son at a highly discounted price, for example, then the parent makes a taxable gift in part. In that case, the seller must pay a gift tax of up to 40 percent. (In this case, that might have run the president somewhere in the neighborhood of $350,000.)

Is there probable cause to believe the president is guilty of tax evasion? The hard question for Mueller as not just a prosecutor but a former FBI chief is what to do if he has smoking-gun proof of non-Russia crimes in his hands, knowing that pursuing those leads will thrust the country into a political maelstrom. Does he let the president or his associates slide on the theory that it’s important not to give the White House any defensible reason to fire the special counsel (“he’s outside his lane!”)? Or does he seek an indictment for any crime that he thinks will produce a conviction on the theory that that’s what prosecutors (usually) do?

A possible compromise position: Pursue only those leads that are related to Russia — and leak the ones that aren’t to the media. It may be that the formal end of the Mueller probe won’t be the end of trouble for Trump.