Thursday, January 25, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He expressed his "respect" for Robert Mueller, who--it was revealed today--he had ordered fired almost immediately after Mueller's appointment.

The New York Times reported this evening that, according to four sources in the White House, Trump had demanded that White House counsel Don McGahn fire Mueller in June. Since the special counsel cannot legally be fired except for cause, Trump suggested that a dispute over fees that Mueller had once been charged by a Trump golf course provided a sufficient conflict of interest. The story was immediately independently confirmed by several other news agencies.

Trump backed down when McGahn threatened to resign in protest. If Trump had insisted, then it is virtually certain that at least two other Department of Justice officials--Rod Rosenstein and Dana Boente--would have resigned as well rather than carry out the order. (With Attorney General Jefferson Sessions recused from the Russia probe, Rosenstein and then Boente would be responsible for carrying out Trump's order.) This would have invited parallels to President Nixon's "Saturday Night Massacre" at a time when the full magnitude of the Russia matter was just coming to light.

The NYT reports that Mueller--who has interviewed any number of White House staff who would have known about the attempted firing--has been aware of the situation for some time. One highly likely source for the story McGahn himself, who may be in an impossible situation as both the chief lawyer for the office of the presidency and simultaneously a witness to yet another potential attempt at obstruction of justice by the president himself. By leaking the news of the June firing, McGahn--or others in the White House who fear that Trump will eventually compound his own legal problems by firing Mueller--could potentially make that scenario politically impossible.

Even as unconfirmed rumors about the attempted firing have circulated for months, Trump has insisted he never gave the idea any thought. Trump's lawyers tonight declined to comment "out of respect for the Office of the Special Counsel and its process."

So what?

  • It's bad if the president obstructs justice.
  • It's bad if the president obstructs an investigation into whether he obstructed justice.
  • Presidents shouldn't lie about things like this.
  • One way to show "respect" for an ongoing criminal investigation is to not try to cut it off at the knees.