The Daily 202: Prospect of Trump firing Mueller keeps becoming more untenable

From the Michael Flynn scandal to James Comey’s firing, Vice President Pence has repeatedly had his official statements defending the Trump administration contradicted – sometimes by the president himself. (Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

Robert Mueller, then director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2013. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)–Then-Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), attorney Floyd Abrams, Mitch McConnell and attorney Kenneth Starr speak to reporters outside the Supreme Court after arguing against the constitutionality of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law in 2003.

Jared Kushner arrives at Andrews Air Force Base last week after joining Trump on a day trip to Cincinnati. (Andrew Harnik/AP)–Rod Rosenstein sorts through notes as he testifies before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee this week. (Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)

THE BIG IDEA: If Donald Trump thought he could intimidate Bob Mueller, he thought wrong.

June 16 at 9:14 AM

A person who spoke with Trump on Tuesday told the New York Times that the president was pleased by the intentional ambiguity of his position on firing Robert S. Mueller as special counsel, “and thinks the possibility of being fired will focus the veteran prosecutor on delivering what the president desires most: a blanket public exoneration.”

If the president truly believes this, he fundamentally misunderstands what motivates the former FBI directorwho has stood up to previous administrations and never swayed under political pressure.

Marines Corps veterans don’t scare easily. Mueller, 72, earned a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star with Valor for his gallantry in Vietnam before devoting most of the rest of his life to public service. Trump, 71, avoided military service by claiming a medical deferment for “heel spurs,” and he’s said that his “personal Vietnam” was avoiding sexually-transmitted diseases while sleeping around in New York. “I feel like a great and very brave solider,” the president once told Howard Stern.

— Just as almost every previous effort at damage control has made Trump’s Russia-related headaches worse, keeping the door open to firing Mueller earlier this week has now backfired. Key figures on Capitol Hill and in the conservative legal firmament have now gone on the record to warn that ousting the special counsel would trigger a constitutional crisis. That would make it much harder for Trump to go that route down the road.

“Firing Mueller would be an insult to the Founding Fathers,” Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel in the Whitewater and Monica Lewinsky investigations during the Clinton 
administration, writes in an op-ed for today’s Post: “Subject to the possibility of being fired for ‘good cause,’ Mueller should be allowed to do his work unhindered and unimpeded. Absent the most extreme circumstances, the president would be singularly ill-advised to threaten, much less order, Mueller’s firing. Under legally binding regulations, the special counsel’s fate rests exclusively with Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein. He alone is empowered to make that fateful decision. As a matter of honor, and in light of his sworn testimony before Congress, Rosenstein would inevitably resign if confronted with a White House directive to dismiss the special counsel. Wisdom counsels strongly against unleashing a 21st-century version of the Saturday Night Massacre of Watergate-era infamy.”

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