Thursday, July 20, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He said he wouldn't fire Robert Mueller for investigating his financial dealings--yet.

In a wide-ranging interview with the New York Times yesterday, Trump agreed with a reporter's suggestion that if special counsel Robert Mueller began investigating Trump's personal financial connections to Russia, it would cross a "red line." Legally, Trump can instruct the relevant Justice Department official--at the moment, deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein--to fire Mueller, although that would likely precipitate several rounds of "Saturday Night Massacre"-style resignations.

In that interview, Trump repeated his usual lawyerly denial, pointing out that he owns no buildings in Russia. (The actual concern is not that Trump owns Russian property, but that Russians own Trump debt. Prior to his presidential campaign, neither Trump nor other members of his family were shy about their Russian business connections.) Pressed on whether he would fire Mueller if he crossed that "red line," Trump demurred, saying, I can’t answer that question because I don’t think it’s going to happen."

This morning, Bloomberg News reported that Mueller's investigation has indeed expanded to include Trump's Russian business connections, and in particular those of his campaign chair Paul Manafort. Asked if Trump would now fire Mueller, spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders reiterated Trump's warning that Mueller should stay away from Trump's business affairs, and that Trump had every legal right to fire Mueller. She added that he "doesn’t intend to do so"--unless some "outrageous reason" presented itself. Sanders refused to speculate on the "hypotheticals" that would lead to such an action.

Why does this matter?

  • People in the path of criminal investigations--even presidents--do not get to dictate the direction they take.
  • Presidents must never threaten the rule of law by trying to impede investigations, no matter what.