Fox News hosts and commentators are aggressively pushing to have Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller fired and to end the investigation into Russian collusion in the 2016 election. It appears to be a highly coordinated effort to prepare the Republican base for Mueller’s firing and the firestorm of criticism that would follow if Trump went down that path.
It would be not be easy for Trump to fire Mueller, even if he wanted to. That power belongs to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who said on Wednesday that he saw no cause to do so. Trump could, however, seek to fire Rosenstein and replace him with someone to do his bidding. Alternatively, Trump could simply empower Rosenstein with the decision.
There are some disturbing signs that Trump is at least considering it.
Over the past several weeks, Mueller’s team has come under fire for potential conflicts of interest, which conservatives in the media and Congress are attempting to leverage to undermine his work.
Specifically, eyes are on former FBI agent Peter Strzok. Over the summer, Mueller removed Strzok from working on the investigation when it was revealed he sent anti-Trump text messages to a lawyer involved in the probe with whom he was involved romantically. Among others, Fox News is also hammering Jeannie Rhee, another member of Mueller’s team who previously represented the Clinton Foundation.
In a raucous hearing of the House Judiciary Committee, Republicans channeled their inner Hannity and used an appearance by Rosenstein to savage Mueller. The message was unmistakable: If Trump attempts to fire Mueller, he won’t encounter much resistance from Republicans in Congress.
Many of the Fox News personalities calling for Mueller’s removal are not simply TV pundits — they are close advisers of President Trump. Jeanine Pirro has visited the Oval Office to give Trump advice. Sean Hannity was a de facto member of the campaign who operates in close coordination with the White House. Their views are not only influencing their audience. They are influencing the president.
Even if Trump choses not to pursue Mueller’s termination, the work of Hannity, Pirro, and others is helping discredit the probe, including future indictments that reach even deeper into Trump’s inner circle.