NYC Boss

NYC Boss

Make Every Democrat's Day

Make Every Democrat's Day

Robert Mueller on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., June 21, 2017.

Robert Mueller on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., June 21, 2017.


Photo:

joshua roberts/Reuters

No one knows if

Donald Trump

is serious or trolling when he tweets, and an example is his Wednesday rant that his Attorney General should end the special counsel probe into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia in 2016. Assuming Mr. Trump is even remotely serious, it’s worth repeating why Democrats are yearning, aching, praying for him to fire

Robert Mueller.

“This is a terrible situation and Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now, before it continues to stain our country any further,” Mr. Trump tweeted Wednesday. “Bob Mueller is totally conflicted, and his 17 Angry Democrats that are doing his dirty work are a disgrace to USA!”

Potmac Watch Podcast

Mr. Sessions is likely to ignore Mr. Trump because he has recused himself from supervising Mr. Mueller. But let’s assume Mr. Trump does order Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein to shut down the Mueller probe. Mr. Rosenstein, who appointed Mr. Mueller, is likely to resign before he follows that order. Others in the Justice chain of command would do the same.

But even if Mr. Trump did find someone to fire Mr. Mueller, the practical effect on the Russia investigation might be negligible. The office of special counsel contains multiple prosecutors and FBI agents who have been collecting evidence and interviewing witnesses. Mr. Trump would have to fire them too, though they could still talk to the press and to Congress.

For that matter, what’s to stop a U.S. Attorney from picking up some of the Mueller evidence and moving ahead? Mr. Trump would be denounced far and wide, and he would have given voters reason to think he’s guilty, yet he might not even stop the investigation.

Mr. Trump would also pay an enormous, perhaps debilitating, political price. A dismissal of Mr. Mueller would be the dominant midterm election issue, swamping good news about the economy. Democrats would argue that a Democratic Congress is needed to rein in a rogue President, and swing-district Republicans would be hard-pressed to defend him. A Democratic wave would be that much more likely, and our guess is that Republicans would lose the House and Senate.

In that scenario, Mr. Trump’s impeachment by the House would be close to certain. Even without an official special-counsel report, the House could gin up its own investigative machinery, calling witnesses and collecting evidence already teed up by Mr. Mueller’s work to date. Conviction by two-thirds of the Senate might be unlikely, but that depends on what Democrats turn up. Mr. Trump might hope for a political backlash in 2020, but that usually sounds better in theory than it works in practice. Ask

Al Gore

about 2000 after eight years of Clinton scandals.

We can appreciate Mr. Trump’s frustration that what began as an FBI counterintelligence probe in 2016 has now stretched past two years. Mr. Mueller should also appreciate that he has a duty to the country to wrap this up sooner rather than later.

But the damage from firing Mr. Mueller is so predictable that’s it hard to believe even Mr. Trump would tempt such a fate—especially since there’s a smarter strategy. Start declassifying and releasing documents related to the FBI and Justice probes going back to 2016. We’ve laid out the list that would help the public understand what happened.

If Justice officials resign to protest such an order, they’ll be doing so in the name of secrecy. Mr. Trump will be acting in the interests of transparency. Meantime, Mr. Trump would avoid making every Democrat’s day by firing Mr. Mueller.

Appeared in the August 2, 2018, print edition.

Published at Wed, 01 Aug 2018 22:36:46 +0000