What will happen if Trump fires Mueller or pardons Putin-gate suspects?


Senate and House leaders should begin drafting legislation that would make special counsel Robert Mueller a fully independent counsel in the event that President Trump fires him from his current post and/or issues preemptive pardons for anyone currently under investigation in the Russia-related scandal.

I believe the odds are very high – and in my view almost certain – that Trump, in a desperate move, both fires Mueller and issues pardons. If either or both of these events happen, it will set off a national firestorm that would be even greater than the firestorm caused by President Nixon with his Saturday Night Massacre during the Watergate scandal.

If this firestorm engulfs the Trump presidency, there will be Republican votes in the House and Senate to create the independent counsel, and probably enough to override any presidential veto of legislation creating it.

While the words “breaking news” are sometimes overused, in the last 10 days there has been a surge of ominous events all pointing to an escalation by Trump and his White House of a war against Mueller and the investigation.

{mosads}It appears the White House has now begun an orchestrated and aggressive attack against Mueller using classic opposition research tactics against him. Today there are credible reports that Trump appears to be considering offering pardons to individuals now under investigation.

The president has also offered, in his strange and bizarre interview this week with The New York Times, aggressive criticism of Attorney General Jeff Sessions that may well presage Sessions’s firing or resignation. Trump also continues to offer aggressive criticism of others involved in the Putin-gate scandal investigation that began shortly after the president’s inauguration and has continued to this day.

In reality, if Trump were to fire Mueller, he would have to order Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to fire him. If Rosenstein refuses, as he surely would, Trump would have to fire Rosenstein and replace him with someone who would then fire Mueller. This would lead to the firing of the deputy attorney general and the special counsel at a time when Trump is also attacking his attorney general, who could be fired or resign in protest.

Today’s news reports suggesting that Trump is seeking information about how presidential pardons work are alarming but not surprising. There are credible reports that Trump appears to be extremely angry and anxious about apparent investigations of possible financial relationships between him, his family and his associates and Russia, adding to the sense of urgency from the White House and investigators alike.

Two factors create heightened urgency and greater danger of potential Trump firings and pardons.

The first factor is the imminent testimony of Trump associates before Congress, which could occur as early as next week. Whether these witnesses are sworn under oath or not, it would be a crime for them to testify falsely. The second factor involves recent revelations about meetings between Trump associates and Russians in June 2016; documentary evidence clearly shows the intent of the Trump associates to discuss at that meeting direct Russian support for attacks against Hillary Clinton at the highest levels of the Trump campaign.

Additionally, the ongoing and escalating pattern of Trump attacks against those investigating Putin-gate, following a series of attacks against and firings of previous leaders of investigations, makes it virtually certain that obstruction of justice is now a prime focus of investigators.

If Trump does intend to make a move to fire Mueller and/or issue pardons, the likelihood rises that it would be sooner rather than later, with legally risky testimony before Congress now imminent and multiple reports that investigators are widening their probes of the potential financial crimes that Trump has explicitly said should be off limits, but which clearly under investigation.

Discussion in Congress should begin immediately about the possibility of enacting legislation to make the special fully independent. It should be passed today, but few if any Republicans are likely to support it today. If there are firings or pardons, the firestorm would be so extreme, and talk of constitutional crisis would be so intense, that a bill to create a fully independent special counsel would probably pass by a veto-proof majority.

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. He can be read on The Hill’s Contributors and reached at brentbbi@webtv.net.

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

Tags Congress Hillary Clinton Jeff Sessions presidential pardon Watergate

The Hill has removed its comment section, as there are many other forums for readers to participate in the conversation. We invite you to join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.

See all Hill.TV See all Video

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video