As with the Saturday Night Massacre, however, any move to fire Mueller would likely not be the end of the matter — or of the criminal investigation. In the uproar that ensued after Cox’s firing, the remaining prosecutors in the office continued their work and a new special prosecutor, Leon Jaworski, was selected. In this situation, even if the Trump Justice Department did not move to name a new special counsel, it would be remarkable, if not unprecedented, for the president to order that a pending criminal investigation touching on his conduct be made to disappear altogether.
Moreover, Cox’s firing triggered a lawsuit by members of Congress who claimed it interfered with their ability to get to the bottom of the Watergate matter. Even though Cox had by then returned to teaching at Harvard University, U.S. District Judge Gerhard Gesell ruled that “the firing of Archibald Cox in the absence of a finding of extraordinary impropriety was in clear violation of an existing Justice Department regulation having the force of law and was therefore illegal.” In addition, Gesell found, abolishing the prosecutor’s office was itself illegal: “An agency’s power to revoke its regulations is not unlimited. Such action must be neither arbitrary nor unreasonable.”