As revelations in the Russia collusion scandal have accelerated in recent weeks, Donald Trump now appears certain to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller in an attempt to end the investigation into the possible conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election, experts now say. But even handing the widely respected former FBI director his walking papers would not put an end to the probe into Trump’s alleged Russia ties, say legal and political analysts.
Mueller was hired by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on May 17, eight days after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey due to, Trump admitted in a nationally televised interview, “this Russia thing.” Mueller, whose 12-year tenure as FBI director remains the longest of anyone in that job since J. Edgar Hoover’s 48-year service, was widely praised when he was hired by Rosenstein, including by Republicans such as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich who called him a “superb choice to be special counsel. His reputation is impeccable for honesty and integrity.”
But on Wednesday of last week, Gingrich told Fox News, “Mueller is corrupt. The senior FBI is corrupt. The system is corrupt.” Fox host Sean Hannity, a longtime Trump supporter, has repeatedly demanded Mueller’s resignation, and the network’s “legal analyst” Greg Jarrett declared that “the Mueller investigation is illegitimate and corrupt.”
Trump and his supporters have also attacked the FBI itself, with Trump last Sunday claiming that the Bureau’s reputation was “in tatters” and “the worst in history!” Trump’s attacks prompted current FBI Director Christopher Wray, who was appointed by Trump after he fired Comey, to push back, testifying to Congress that “the FBI that I see is people, decent people, committed to the highest principles of dignity and professionalism and respect.”
At a rally in Florida on Friday, Trump attacked the entire United States system of government, declaring, “This is a rigged system. This is a sick system from the inside.” But the attacks on Mueller and the “system” have been seen by experts, as well as Democrats in Congress, as a way to create a pretext for Trump to fire Mueller.
“Trump’s remarks look less like an attempt to fire up a Friday night crowd with red meat rhetoric and more like an attempt to prepare the political battlefield for the denouement of the Russia saga,” wrote CNN analyst Stephen Collinson on Saturday.
The attacks by Trump and his allies are designed to “delegitimize Mueller in such a way that he can either be fired or can be ignored if he concludes the president broke the law,” former Justice Department official Mathew Miller told the Washington Post.
Democrats in the House and Senate have introduced legislation that would make it more difficult for Trump to fire Mueller, but neither bill appears likely to pass.
But even if Trump were to succeed in firing Mueller, the fact that Mueller has already indicted four individuals in connection with investigation — including Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort and ex-national security adviser Michael Flynn, who entered a guilty plea to lying to the FBI and pledged to cooperate with the investigation — appears to guarantee that the investigation will continue.
According to a report on Thursday by Bloomberg Business News, Mueller’s team has already put mechanisms in place for other prosecutors to continue the Russia investigation if Trump fires Mueller. Flynn’s plea deal, for example, requires that he cooperate not only with Mueller, but with state and local law enforcement officials as well.
The evidence found by Mueller against Manafort can also be easily followed by other prosecutors who pursue the money laundering charges against the former campaign manager, Bloomberg reported.
The cases against Flynn and Manafort, as well as those against Manafort and Trump aide Rick Gates and former Trump adviser George Papadopoulos — who also took a guilty plea for lying to the FBI in exchange for his cooperation with the Mueller investigation — will continue whether or not Mueller stays in his job to oversee them, Newsweek reported.