Trump-Mueller Fallout Will Not Halt Russian Probe
Stephanie Miller 5/3/18
The Senate Judiciary Committee has voted for legislation to stop President Trump from firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller, a move that will not affect the continuation of the investigation into Russian electoral interference.
The Independent reports, “the measure – which was approved 14-7 – would give any special counsel a 10-day window to seek judicial review of his or her firing. It also would put into law existing Department of Justice regulations that investigators can only be fired for good cause.” The committee’s move now places the bill into the hands of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has previously said he will not let the issue reach the Senate floor. However, the 14-7 vote in and of itself is significant because it highlighted bipartisan concern. The Associated Press says that nearly all Democrat and Republican senators believe that President Trump should not fire Mueller, despite Republican sentiment that there should be more protections against “prosecutorial overreach.”
The bill arrives at an interesting time in Washington. Vox reports that the president’s attacks against Mueller have grown increasingly personal since Mueller threatened to subpoena him before a grand jury. Trump tweeted a comment suggesting that any questioning conducted by the probe would be “an intrusion into the President’s Article 2 powers under the Constitution to fire any Executive Branch Employee” and vaguely referenced “the President’s unfettered power to fire anyone”—a power that technically does not exist. NBC News reminded the public that only the attorney general could remove Mueller for “misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity, conflict of interest, or for other good cause, including violation of Departmental policies.”
Even if Mueller were to be fired, the president cannot end the Russia probe. Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor, said in an interview with Vox that “There are currently multiple open investigations at the Justice Department. If Mueller is fired, those investigations don’t close themselves. The evidence and reports are not destroyed. The indictments are not dismissed. Unless Trump appoints someone who takes it upon himself or herself to close the open investigations and dismiss the court cases, they will continue to proceed.”
Miriam Baer, a law professor at Brooklyn Law School, agrees. “The United States Attorney’s Offices for the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York are already conducting their own investigations…Accordingly, one or both offices would almost certainly continue their investigations, unless and until President Trump took steps to block their work. And here, again, the political costs of extinguishing these investigations would be massive”.
A defense attorney representing a senior Trump aide told Politico that Mueller “has too much integrity and too much respect for institutions… to force a sitting president to assert a Fifth Amendment privilege”, and that he “[doesn’t] think that it would meaningfully affect Mueller’s investigation.”
Ultimately, everything is up in the air, but it appears that the Russia probe is not going away just yet. “Bureaucracies are complicated animals, and this one has metastasized beyond the Mueller investigation,” said Benjamin Wittes, a Brookings Institution senior fellow. “That’s the thing that functionally protects the investigation.”