FBI, Trump, and the legalities: part 1

The Special Counsel leading the Russia investigation, Robert Mueller, has quickly became one of the most polarizing men today. He and the investigation have drawn severe ire from the President and his supporters. Questions surrounding a Mueller dismissal have circulated mainstream media for months, and now, it seems that we may soon have an answer as Trump’s attacks have escalated to a height we have not yet seen.

Following the April 9 FBI-conducted raids on the office, hotel room and home of Trump’s personal attorney, and friend, Michael Cohen, the President has become increasingly adamant in his refusal to cooperate further with the Special Counsel. Prior to the raids, the President was going to go so far as to sit down with Mueller’s team for an interview. On multiple occasions, he spoke to the press about his willingness to do it. Back in January, he said that he was even “looking forward to it, actually.” The interview seemed so certain that Trump’s (now-former) lawyer John Down resigned back in March because, as The New York Times reported, he believed an interview would be, “too risky.”

Trump’s most recent dismissal of an investigation might actually end up having an effect he wanted: a closer end to the investigation. NBC News reported this April that “the timetable for delivering a report on Obstruction of Justice may now be sped up, absent a presidential interview with the Mueller team.”

Cohen is just one of the many people connected to Trump who have found themselves under investigation since the election. The raids took place as the Department of Justice investigated possible bank fraud and campaign finance violations committed by Cohen, according to multiple media sources. The FBI sought records of his clients and personal finances, including information related to the $130,000 payment Cohen made to porn actress Stormy Daniels in October 2016, in an effort to keep her quiet about the alleged affair she had with the President in 2006, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Since Trump’s attacks on the Special Counsel, members of Congress were pushing for legislation that could punish a potential firing. In a bipartisan joint effort from Sens. Thom Tillis (R-NC), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Chris Coons (D-DE), Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the legislation would have given any special counsel a 10-day period to seek judicial review for their firing; it would have also turned an existing Justice Department regulation that a firing must be of “good cause” into law. Unfortunately, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said he sees no reason for this bill to be brought to the floor. “We’ll not be having this on the floor of the Senate,” McConnell asserted in an interview with Fox News. In the same interview, he also said that, as of now, “there’s no indication that Mueller is going to be fired.”

Despite Trump’s tweets about Mueller, federal regulations state that Trump, himself, does not have authority to fire Mueller. In 1999, in the wake of the Clinton investigation, federal regulations were established that a special counsel “may be disciplined or removed from office only by the personal action of the Attorney General.” Now, because Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused (excused) himself from this investigation (due to his involvement in the Trump campaign), the person who oversees Mueller is Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. He is the one person who can directly order Mueller’s firing.

The regulations also state that a special counsel can only be dismissed “for misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity, conflict of interest, or for other good cause, including violation of Department policies.”
In a House hearing last December, Rosenstein appeared before the House Judiciary Committee. In the hearing, he made clear that he had seen no reason yet to fire Mueller. When directly asked if there were cause to terminate him, Rosenstein answered, “no.”

Robert Mueller’s job may be in jeopardy. Those in and around Washington expect him to be fired, potentially, any day now; “I don’t know what’s going to happen and I claim no special knowledge but please be ready to mobilize,” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) tweeted this April. Police in Pittsburgh have even been instructed to “bring a full uniform and any issued protective equipment (riot gear) with them to work” in the event of a “potential large scale protest,” according to an email sent by Pittsburgh’s Major Crimes Commander Victor Joseph.

Whether or not you agree with the Russia investigation, and the spectacle it has caused, we are likely to find ourselves in an even more politically charged atmosphere.