STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

Can Donald Trump fire Robert Mueller? And how would it work?

Robert Mueller's appointment as special counsel to lead the Russia probe in May caught President Donald Trump by surp...

Posted: Dec 19, 2017 11:50 AM
Updated: Dec 19, 2017 11:50 AM

Robert Mueller's appointment as special counsel to lead the Russia probe in May caught President Donald Trump by surprise. Seven months later, the President's defenders have gone into overdrive hoping to discredit the investigation as Trump insists publicly he has no plans to fire Mueller.

Trump has called the investigation a "witch hunt," his allies on Capitol Hill highlight the political contributions Mueller's team members have made to Democrats over the years, and Fox News banners muse about an anti-Trump "coup in America?" Trump transition lawyers also say Mueller's team wrongfully got a hold of tens of thousands of emails.

President Donald Trump has the ability to fire Jeff Sessions and/or Rod Rosenstein

Rosenstein has continuously offered a full-throated defense of Robert Mueller's integrity

Trump, his lawyers, his Cabinet, and White House staff all still maintain that Mueller isn't on the chopping block even as his investigation reaches members of the President's inner circle.

But what's to stop the President from handing Mueller a pink slip if he changes his mind?

Can Trump fire Mueller?

The answer isn't straightforward.

Under the special counsel regulations, Mueller may be "disciplined or removed from office only by the personal action of the attorney general."

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself from all matters related to the 2016 presidential campaigns, so the power to fire Mueller falls to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

But Rosenstein has continuously offered a full-throated defense of Mueller's integrity, telling the House Judiciary Committee just last week that he's seen no "good cause to fire Mueller."

Trump does have the ability to fire Sessions and/or Rosenstein -- as a members of the executive branch -- in which case Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand would elevate to acting attorney general.

"The President is not considering changes to the Department of Justice leadership," Raj Shah, principal deputy White House press secretary, told The Washington Post Monday.

But former acting solicitor general Neal Katyal, who helped draft the special counsel regulations in the 1990s, has also suggested that the rules don't "foreclose the possibility of political interference in the investigation."

"Our Constitution gives the President the full prosecution power in Article II; accordingly, any federal prosecutor works ultimately for the President," Katyal said. "The President, therefore, would have to direct Rosenstein to fire Mueller -- or, somewhat more extravagantly, Trump could order the special-counsel regulations repealed and then fire Mueller himself."

When President Richard Nixon ordered Attorney General Elliot Richardson to fire Archibald Cox, the special prosecutor investigating Watergate, it proved to be a turning point in the investigation, leading to the infamous "Saturday Night Massacre."

Richardson refused and resigned in protest, leading Nixon to order then-Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus to fire Cox. But Ruckelshaus also refused and resigned, and eventually then-solicitor general Robert Bork fired Cox.

Is Trump worse off if he tries?

Harvard Law School Professor Jack Goldsmith, former head of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel during George W. Bush's administration, has suggested the President will only come under further scrutiny if he tries to fire Mueller.

"I don't see how firing Mueller gives Trump relief from the investigation. More likely the opposite, since it would call Trump into greater suspicion. Just as it got worse for him after he fired (former FBI Director James) Comey, it would get yet worse for him if he fired Mueller," Goldsmith tweeted.

"(T)he overall investigation has already yielded fruit and there is a clear justification for it to continue," he added.

Just as the FBI's counterintelligence investigation had been looking into contacts between Russian operatives and individuals associated with the Trump campaign prior to Mueller's appointment in May -- the FBI's probe would not necessarily shut down even if Mueller were out of the picture.

"FBI Director (Christopher) Wray would continue to investigate until ordered not to," Goldsmith said.

What's at stake if he does it anyway?

The number two Republican in the Senate has said it would be a "mistake" for Trump to fire Mueller and Democrats would undoubtedly go ballistic if he tried.

Yet the legislative proposals floated over the summer to protect the special counsel have, thus far, stalled.

And even if someone tried to file a lawsuit in federal court to stop the President -- it's difficult to envision a realistic scenario where a challenger with adequate standing would have a legal leg to stand on.

As the head of the executive branch, the President is ultimately in charge of law enforcement.

"The President under our Constitution has the prosecution power. So prosecutors serve as an extension of the Presidency," Katyal has said.

But the very idea that Trump might try to fire or order the firing of the prosecutor -- who now charged the President's former campaign aides with federal crimes and secured a cooperation deal with the President's former national security adviser -- strikes some legal experts as an illustration of the inherent flaw in our constitutional design.

Trump is "a stress test for this particular constitutional problem," Harvard Law School Professor Noah R. Feldman told CNN.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 90017

Reported Deaths: 2017
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hennepin25857922
Ramsey10492318
Dakota7125125
Anoka5753132
Stearns377023
Washington357355
Scott242633
Olmsted228727
Nobles193116
Blue Earth15986
Wright15337
St. Louis135234
Carver13517
Rice13018
Mower12864
Clay126140
Sherburne109314
Kandiyohi9312
Winona85018
Lyon6464
Waseca5328
Steele5212
Freeborn5163
Benton5113
Watonwan5054
Nicollet49916
Todd4792
McLeod4462
Chisago4441
Le Sueur4444
Crow Wing43318
Otter Tail3924
Beltrami3764
Goodhue3309
Martin3199
Pine2810
Itasca27713
Polk2734
Isanti2580
Douglas2491
Becker2442
Carlton2391
Cottonwood2190
Pipestone2129
Unassigned20952
Morrison2031
Dodge1990
Chippewa1921
Sibley1793
Meeker1772
Wabasha1740
Brown1732
Yellow Medicine1582
Murray1542
Rock1520
Mille Lacs1453
Redwood1400
Jackson1331
Faribault1320
Renville1286
Cass1253
Roseau1160
Swift1141
Pennington1121
Houston1100
Fillmore1080
Kanabec1058
Koochiching1053
Lincoln1020
Stevens931
Pope880
Hubbard820
Aitkin711
Big Stone680
Wadena650
Grant584
Wilkin553
Lake530
Norman510
Marshall491
Lac qui Parle460
Mahnomen451
Red Lake390
Traverse300
Clearwater260
Lake of the Woods201
Kittson120
Cook60

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 80106

Reported Deaths: 1256
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Polk15318256
Johnson499527
Woodbury498961
Black Hawk434986
Linn3783106
Story328617
Dubuque279840
Scott279727
Dallas269038
Pottawattamie200037
Buena Vista194712
Marshall176134
Sioux13503
Wapello126757
Webster119314
Clinton107018
Muscatine106452
Plymouth105220
Crawford10014
Cerro Gordo99621
Warren9286
Jasper76632
Des Moines7417
Marion7154
Tama69031
Carroll6345
Henry6074
Lee5967
Wright5621
Dickinson4856
Boone4677
Bremer4627
Washington43111
Louisa42515
Mahaska34019
Franklin33617
Delaware3353
Hamilton3143
Jackson3003
Floyd2983
Winneshiek2985
Clay2923
Benton2861
Hardin2761
Winnebago27111
Butler2592
Clarke2553
Emmet25210
Poweshiek2498
Lyon2483
Allamakee2455
Jones2443
Buchanan2421
Shelby2421
Clayton2323
Guthrie2235
Cedar2211
Chickasaw2210
Kossuth2190
Sac2140
Grundy2052
Madison2052
Cherokee1942
Fayette1911
Iowa1851
Mitchell1830
Howard1825
Harrison1782
Humboldt1733
Hancock1722
Calhoun1702
Mills1681
Palo Alto1600
Pocahontas1522
Monroe14810
Lucas1426
Page1420
Monona1381
Jefferson1341
Cass1332
Osceola1260
Appanoose1233
Taylor1231
Union1223
Davis1144
Van Buren1101
Worth1020
Ida970
Keokuk911
Fremont870
Greene870
Montgomery865
Wayne822
Adair661
Audubon641
Decatur590
Ringgold412
Adams280
Unassigned160
Rochester
Clear
61° wxIcon
Hi: 80° Lo: 55°
Feels Like: 61°
Mason City
Clear
57° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 54°
Feels Like: 57°
Albert Lea
Clear
63° wxIcon
Hi: 80° Lo: 56°
Feels Like: 63°
Austin
Clear
57° wxIcon
Hi: 80° Lo: 55°
Feels Like: 57°
Charles City
Broken Clouds
55° wxIcon
Hi: 81° Lo: 53°
Feels Like: 55°
Warmer Weather Ahead
KIMT Radar
KIMT Eye in the sky

Community Events