By Daniel J. McLaughlin
"Why don't I just fire Mueller?" Donald Trump mused aloud, responding to a question from a reporter on Monday. "Well, I think it's a disgrace what's going on. We'll see what happens. Many people have said you should fire him. Again, they found nothing. And in finding nothing, that's a big statement."
The alarm bells started ringing. There is no filter between Trump's thoughts and his mouth - or indeed his fingers, as he tweets his latest tirade. The president is incandescent with rage after the FBI raid of offices and the hotel of Michael Cohen, Trump's personal attorney. "Attorney-client privilege is dead!" he tweeted. "A TOTAL WITCH HUNT!!!" he added.
His attack on Robert Mueller III, the special counsel investigating the Russian interference in the 2016 election and the alleged collusion with the Trump campaign, is nothing new. However, openly contemplating his dismissal is unprecedented step for the president.
It was previously believed that the president could not directly fire the special counsel. He would have to order the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, to do so - Rosenstein is the acting attorney general for the Russia investigation, after Jeff Sessions recused himself. The deputy attorney general has repeatedly said that he would refuse the order, unless there is evidence of misconduct. The next step for Trump would be to fire the deputy attorney general and find a successor who would carry out the order.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, however, made a provocative claim, the New York Times reports: the president believes he has the legal authority to fire Mueller. When asked to clarify her comments, she said that “a number of individuals in the legal community and including at the Department of Justice” have said that Trump has the power to oust him.
CNN argues that Trump has never been more likely to fire Mueller. The president's remarkable statement "feels like a precursor to the actual act, a trial balloon floated to see how it might land". They note that Trump tried to get rid of the special counsel last summer, only to be persuaded otherwise by White House counsel Don McGahn. Since last summer, the revolving back door at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has been spinning and Trump is more isolated than ever.
"An angry and embittered Trump without any sort of protective cocoon around him is capable of almost anything - up to and including getting rid of the man who has been a burr in his saddle for the past year," they add.
While Mueller has been the target of Trump since becoming special counsel, the president's latest outburst is a result of the FBI raid. However, as Rolling Stone magazine notes, it is not a Trump v Mueller thing, contrary to what the White House would tell you.
There are individuals who are more to blame for the raid than Mueller. It was deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein who authorised the searches, so why not fire him? And if he does, what about the federal prosecutors in the US Attorney's Office in New York, who also signed off on the raids? Whilst you're at it, that group includes US Attorney nominee Geoffrey Bermen, appointed by Attorney General Jeff Session - could they face the chop? They are all more liable than Robert Mueller for the searches.
Donald Trump is clearly not a fan of Robert Mueller and his Russia probe. The president's attacks have been used to undermine the special counsel. However, he is reaching a dangerous stage where he could fire Mueller - which could damage law enforcement and his presidency.