Stop Trump from pulling a 'Saturday Night Massacre' over Russia probe
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Warning to believers in the rule of law: There is now a clear and present danger that President Trump is on the brink, possibly within days, of precipitating a constitutional crisis and triggering a national firestorm against his presidency by firing and removing multiple officials involved in the Russia investigation.

Even more than normal, there are currently strange and troubling rumors being whispered behind the scenes in Washington, D.C., most of which involve potential new revelations in the Russia scandal or fears that President Trump might soon take extreme action in the coming days to aggressively attack the special counsel investigations.

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If Trump attempts a "Saturday Night Massacre" using any of the tactics described below, there would be a constitutional crisis in America and a political firestorm of reaction that would be more devastating than the firestorm that confronted Richard Nixon shortly before he resigned from office.

 

The president has been behaving in a manner that suggests a growing sense of panic. He writes angry impulsive tweets that harm his own legal and political position and, along with his inner circle, is now attacking virtually everyone involved in the special counsel's investigation.

It now appears that Trump, against the advice of virtually every senior Republican leader in Congress, is spearheading an all-out attack against special counsel Robert Mueller and the special counsel investigation itself.

It is understandable that the president is acting like a desperate politician. The scope of the investigation appears to be widening almost every day, with more matters under investigation and more individuals under the microscope. Adding to the reasons Trump might feel a sense of panic is that while the investigation becomes more far-reaching, his poll numbers continue to fall, with one new poll showing disapproval of him rising to 65 percent.

If indeed Trump attempted to pull off a Saturday Night Massacre to remove Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his investigative staff, possibly in the coming days, here is how it would work.

President Trump cannot directly fire the special counsel. He would have to order Rob Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general who is now the lead Justice Department official on the case, to fire Mueller.

If Rosenstein refuses, Trump would have to fire Rosenstein and order his replacement to fire Mueller. Rosenstein's replacement would probably be Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand. If she refuses, the president would then have to fire her, and so on.

There is a second way Trump might try to pull off a Saturday Night Massacre. If Trump has compromised Rosenstein sufficiently, Rosenstein would have to recuse himself from the case, and his replacement could be ordered by Trump to fire Mueller.

There is a third way for Trump to try to destroy the special prosecutor's investigation, which is to suggest that Mueller might also have to recuse himself. This was suggested by Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University.

I vehemently and unequivocally disagree with Turley about this and would flatly assert that most of the respected legal authorities in the nation would disagree with him as well. There is absolutely no reason for Mueller to recuse himself. I would also note that senior Republican leaders in Congress have repeatedly expressed their respect for Mueller and support for his leading the investigation.

They would almost certainly agree with me and disagree with Turley, opposing any attempt through any means to execute a Saturday Night Massacre in any form or remove Mueller from the case in any way. The bottom line is that the investigation must proceed; it must proceed under the leadership of Robert Mueller and it must proceed without any interference or obstruction from Trump or his team.

Republicans — and all Americans — would be well-advised to warn President Trump, publicly and privately, that he stands on dangerous legal, constitutional and political ground. Patriotic Americans should work hard to stop Trump from turning the investigation into a banana-republic performance more fitting of nations like Russia than our democracy.

If President Trump declares war against Mueller and the investigation itself, he will lose and pay the ultimate price — forfeiting the presidency.

Brent Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Texas) and Rep. Bill Alexander (D-Ark.), then-chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. in international financial law from the London School of Economics.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.