It's conventional wisdom in Washington that President Trump is just itching to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller and disband his investigation, and there's a fair amount of anecdotal evidence to back that up: Trump himself has called the endeavor a "witch hunt," and the president's allies have been sharply critical of Mueller's Democrat-laden squad -- to say nothing of the Sessions kerfuffle, which very much looked like Trump publicly raging at his Attorney General for committing the 'sin' of recusal, which he clearly believes set in motion a chain of events culminating Mueller's appointment. I'd argue that Sessions' recusal would have eventually become inevitable regardless of his preemptive strike, while others have persuasively contended that if Trump remains irate over the whole situation, he should look in the mirror when assessing ultimate blame.
If Trump was toying with the notion to dismissing Mueller -- a course of action that even Anthony Scaramucci cautioned against -- the events of late last week would seem to tie his hands even further. With a grand jury convened (in addition to this one) and subpoenas flying, the president pulling the plug at this point would touch off a firestorm that would dwarf the Comey uproar, including even louder cries of obstruction. A recent poll spells out the potential political ramifications of axing Mueller, underscoring just how boxed in Trump is on this. Keep in mind that this data was gathered before the grand jury news broke:
Americans in battleground districts would disapprove by a 2-to-1 margin if Trump fires Mueller. https://t.co/jtDD75Jthe— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) August 4, 2017
It's the anticipation of precisely that sort of public sentiment that has driven my analysis for many weeks that any credible perception of White House interference in Mueller's work, let alone shutting it all down, would be politically suicidal. That's even truer today, now that the public is aware that the probe is making strides digging deeper, reportedly including the issuance of subpoenas related to members of the Trump family. But what about the concern among many Trump supporters that Mueller may be straying too far from his lane? Is there any remedy to ensure that Mueller doesn't wander too far afield and sticks to his original charge? I quoted former federal prosecutor Andy McCarthy earlier, and I'm going to do it again. In June, he urged mending, not ending, the special counsel investigation:
Trump should not dismiss Mueller, but the Justice Department must revise the special counsel’s jurisdiction...Bob Mueller is as straight an arrow as they come; he is not right all of the time (is any of us?), but he is always ethical and patriotic. Like others, I worry about the ideological bent and potential for overzealousness of the staff he has assembled. But there is no doubting their legal acumen, and with Mueller calling the shots, I believe the Trump administration and the public will get fair treatment. This situation warrants attention, but not panic...Rosenstein should issue a directive superseding his original appointment of Mueller in order to more tightly and appropriately define Mueller’s jurisdiction. The new directive should describe, in writing, the potential crimes that have been uncovered in the Russia investigation. There is no need to name names of suspects — the Justice Department should always resist that, even if the names would be obvious to people who’ve been following the public reporting. But it should be made clear that the special-counsel appointment is not a fishing expedition on the pretext of a sprawling counterintelligence probe.
If criminal conduct has been discovered, it should be spelled out. “Trump campaign collusion with Russia,” aside from being unsupported by any public evidence, is not a crime. If there is to be a special counsel, the public, the Congress, the president, the Justice Department, and the special counsel himself must all know what crimes are being investigated. This would not bar Mueller from good-faith pursuit of investigative leads that are within this narrower mandate. In the superseding order, the DAG should provide that Mueller may seek an expansion of his jurisdiction if he finds evidence of other potential crimes — i.e., real violations of federal law that are grist for prosecution, not intriguing relationships that can be spun into conspiracy theories.
It now seems obvious that the probe has become criminal in nature, hence Rosenstein's Fox News Sunday reminder that if possible crimes under investigation fall beyond the realm of the Russia matter, Mueller would need to request permission to expand the scope of his work. If that should ever occur, you'd better believe that Trump's desire to tempt fate and send Mueller packing will grow much more acute. But never fear, Kellyanne Conway told ABC News' This Week, sacking Mueller hasn't even been discussed:
She won't go so far as to categorically rule anything out, but she's sending a strong signal that as far as internal discussions go, firing Mueller isn't on the table. The American people deserve a fair and thorough reckoning of Russia's subterfuge in the 2016 election. If that task gets spun off into something that can reasonably be characterized as a nail-Trump-at-all-costs crusade, it will undermine waning public confidence in our institutions even further. Charles Krauthammer is correct on that point. I'll leave you with an illustration of why so many Trump defenders look askance at Mueller's investigation. Some on the Left and in the media seem to view the special counsel's job as confirming what they've already determined to be true. Some, like impeachment-obsessed Maxine Waters, are willing to say so explicitly:
Mueller's job is to find the truth, period -- not to confirm The Resistance's premature verdict.