Trump supporters have started arguing that following former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony before Congress last Thursday, the services of Special Counsel Robert Mueller are no longer needed.
They’re advancing two cases. The first is that because Comey confirmed last Thursday that Trump wasn’t personally under investigation during the early weeks of his presidency — before Comey’s firing — there’s no good reason for Mueller’s investigation to continue. Ann Coulter encapsulated this line of reasoning in a tweet:
Now that we FINALLY got Comey to admit Trump not under investigation, Sessions should fire Mueller. Why do we need a special counsel now?
— Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter) June 11, 2017
Coulter’s case overlooks the fact that investigations into the Trump campaign for possible collusion with Russia already involve some of Trump’s closest confidantes and advisers. It also overlooks Comey’s indication last Thursday that Mueller’s probe includes an investigation of Trump for possible obstruction of justice. So while Trump may not have been personally under investigation before, things have changed.
The second case is that Mueller is unfit to investigate anything related to Comey because the two have a personal relationship and a professional respect for each other. Conservative columnist Byron York summarized this case in his latest column — a column shared on Twitter by Laura Ingraham, editor in chief of LifeZette, who’s rumored to be in the mix for a communications job in the White House:
— Laura Ingraham (@IngrahamAngle) June 12, 2017
York’s case overlooks that Mueller, who was appointed as FBI director in 2001 by Republican President George W. Bush, is widely respected on both sides of the aisle and was viewed as an impeccable choice by no less than Newt Gingrich at the time of his selection as special counsel last month.
Robert Mueller is superb choice to be special counsel. His reputation is impeccable for honesty and integrity. Media should now calm down
— Newt Gingrich (@newtgingrich) May 18, 2017
So what changed? Last week, Mueller hired deputy solicitor general Michael Dreeben to be part of his rapidly expanding team. News of that hire and others prompted former acting US solicitor general Neal Katyal to tell CNN, “You don’t bring Michael Dreeben onto something ordinary… He’s the top criminal law practitioner in the United States.”
With evidence mounting that Mueller isn’t messing around, Gingrich is now singing a very different tune than the one he was less than a month ago.
Republicans are delusional if they think the special counsel is going to be fair. Look who he is hiring.check fec reports. Time to rethink.
— Newt Gingrich (@newtgingrich) June 12, 2017
On Sunday, Jay Sekulow, a member of Mr. Trump’s legal team, wouldn’t rule out the possibility that Trump could fire Mueller during an interview on ABC’s This Week. Trump can’t directly make that move himself, but he could direct Rod Rosenstein, acting attorney general for the Russia investigation, to do so.
Over the span of a week last month, Rosenstein went from being a White House favorite to a subject of widespread Trump administration criticism after he appointed Mueller as special counsel. Rosenstein was one of a number of intelligence officials who rankled members of the Senate Intelligence Committee last Wednesday by refusing to answer basic questions about their interactions with Trump.
While asking Rosenstein to fire Mueller would undoubtedly unleash a political firestorm, it appears some of Trump’s most prominent and vocal supporters are prepared to stand by him if he tries to make that move. Their eagerness to defend him is reminiscent of how some Republican members of Congress and right-wing media personalities went to great lengths in a failed attempt to validate Trump’s reckless accusation that President Obama wiretapped him.