Less than 24 hours removed from Donald Trump musing that “many people” have told him he should fire special counsel Robert Mueller, Sarah Sanders made clear that that the White House has researched such a move and believes Trump has the ability to do it.
“He certainly believes he has the power to do so,” the White House press secretary said of the President’s ability to fire Mueller. “We’ve been advised that the President certainly has the power to make that decision.”
That. Is. A. Big. Deal.
Think about what Sanders is saying here. She is saying that the White House has sought out guidance as to whether Trump can fire the special counsel. And concluded that he can.
Which matters a lot, for two reasons.
1. That conclusion goes against the Code of Federal Regulations governing how and who can fire a special counsel.
The code says this:
“The Special Counsel may be disciplined or removed from office only by the personal action of the Attorney General. The Attorney General may remove a Special Counsel for misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity, conflict of interest, or for other good cause, including violation of Departmental policies. The Attorney General shall inform the Special Counsel in writing of the specific reason for his or her removal.”
That seems very, very clear.
“The Special Counsel may be disciplined or removed from office only by the personal action of the Attorney General” doesn’t appear to leave a ton of wiggle room.
Remember that former President Richard Nixon’s “Saturday Night Massacre” refers to the resignations of the attorney general and the deputy attorney general because they weren’t willing to fire special counsel Archibald Cox. Nixon eventually turned to Solicitor General Robert Bork, who was next in line in the chain of command, who fired Cox. (And, yes, it’s the same Robert Bork.)
So, even in what is widely seen as one of the biggest crises of confidence in modern government history, Nixon followed the code on how to get a special counsel fired.
2. That conclusion speaks to just how far Trump has come in terms of Mueller’s job status in a very short period of time.
Remember that for months and months, Trump – perhaps on the advice of his legal team – never mentioned Mueller by name.
It was only March 17 when Trump first raised Mueller by name in a tweet.
That tweet read: “The Mueller probe should never have been started in that there was no collusion and there was no crime. It was based on fraudulent activities and a Fake Dossier paid for by Crooked Hillary and the DNC, and improperly used in FISA COURT for surveillance of my campaign. WITCH HUNT!”
The following day, Trump tweeted on Mueller again: “Why does the Mueller team have 13 hardened Democrats, some big Crooked Hillary supporters, and Zero Republicans? Another Dem recently added…does anyone think this is fair? And yet, there is NO COLLUSION!”
And it wasn’t until Monday that we even heard Trump publicly acknowledge that some people – ahem – think he should fire Mueller. Now, suddenly, not only does Trump believe the Mueller probe “has gone too far” (in the words of Sanders) but he also has solicited advice on whether he can fire Mueller – and concluded that he can.
Maybe we shouldn’t be as surprised by these revelations given that The New York Times has previously reported that Trump decided to fire Mueller last summer but was talked out of it by White House counsel Donald McGahn.
But what we’ve learned about the research and conclusions the White House has drawn about Trump’s ability to fire Mueller feels as though this is all picking up speed. And quickly.