Updated at 9:17 a.m. | The White House is not flatly denying that Donald Trump is considering firing Robert Mueller as the Justice Department’s special counsel investigating Russia’s election meddling.
But a White House official late Monday did try to distance Trump from Newsmax Media CEO Christopher Ruddy, who told a PBS news program earlier in the evening that Trump is “considering” firing Mueller.
“Chris was speaking for himself and did not speak to the president,” the White House official told Roll Call in an email.
The official was responding to this comment from Ruddy, a longtime Trump confidant, to “PBS NewsHour” host Judy Woodruff: “I think he’s considering perhaps terminating the special counsel. … I think he’s weighing that option.”
— PBS NewsHour (@NewsHour) June 12, 2017
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan said he had only heard “rumors” that Trump is considering firing Mueller, but he said his advice would be to let the special counsel do his job.
“The best case for the president is to be vindicated by allowing this investigation to go on thoroughly and independently,” he said.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said he had not seen good cause to fire Mueller when asked Tuesday by Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen at a Senate Appropriations hearing. Rosenstein also affirmed that Mueller will have “full independence.”
The mere possibility that Trump would consider the termination of a special counsel who is investigating his campaign associates’ possible nefarious ties to Russia — and apparently whether the president committed obstruction of justice by firing former FBI Director James Comey in part for not dropping part of the bureau’s probe examining Michael Flynn — conjured memories of Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal.
With Attorney General Jeff Sessions having recused himself from the Russia investigation, all indications are Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein — who appointed Mueller — would have to abide by Trump’s order and do the firing of the special counsel. If Rosenstein declined, Trump would have the option of following in Nixon’s footsteps by firing him and going in search of a DOJ official willing to oust Mueller, himself a former FBI director.
Such a scenario would not be unprecedented.
In October 1973, the Justice Department’s special prosecutor investigating the Watergate break-in, Archibald Cox, took his quest for information from the Nixon White House to court. Nixon demanded Attorney General Elliot Richardson immediately fire Cox. Richardson refused, and instead resigned. Ditto for Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus.
Ultimately, Robert Bork, at the time solicitor general, fired Cox.
The Saturday Night Massacre “released a firestorm of protest, with nearly a half million telegrams bombarding the White House in one week,” according to the White House Historical Association.
“Furthermore, when Speaker Carl Albert called the House of Representatives to order on the Tuesday morning after the firings, a score of them were waiting in line to introduce resolutions of impeachment of the president of the United States,” the association noted.
House Intelligence Committee ranking member Adam Schiff, D-Calif., warned the president on Monday night that lawmakers would merely use its powers to re-appoint Mueller.
If President fired Bob Mueller, Congress would immediately re-establish independent counsel and appoint Bob Mueller. Don’t waste our time.
On Tuesday morning, Trump accused former Attorney General Loretta Lynch with a crime, tweeting that she “gave Hillary Clinton a free pass and protection.” Trump deemed those alleged actions “Totally illegal!”
A.G. Lynch made law enforcement decisions for political purposes…gave Hillary Clinton a free pass and protection. Totally illegal!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 13, 2017
— Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.