Many have predicted that Trump might fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Right now, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is recused from the Russia investigation. But if Trump fired Sessions, and appointed a new attorney general, then the next one probably wouldn’t be recused. Trump could then order the next attorney general to fire Mueller, and if he was a Trump fanatic, he might obey that order.
While this might have been Trump’s plan, it’s unlikely to work now. Nothing is certain, but here are some obstacles for Trump.
Problem #1: General Kelly, recently appointed Trump’s chief of staff, most likely wouldn’t stand for it. Trump is technically his boss, so in theory he could fire Kelly. But for some mysterious reason, Kelly has been able to walk into the Trump White House and start ordering everyone around. Hence, given how much power Kelly has now, we can reasonably infer that Kelly has some kind of leverage to block decisions he opposes.
Problem #2: If Sessions quit, or was fired, a new attorney general would need Senate confirmation. The Republicans have a slim majority, and the Senate is down one member because of McCain’s cancer treatment. Getting a Trump loyalist past Senate confirmation hearings would be a three ring circus.
Problem #3: The Republicans in the Senate are writing a bill to explicitly protect the special counsel’s position. If the bill passes, Mueller couldn’t be fired by anyone without good cause (reviewable in court). The Russia sanctions bill passed Congress almost unanimously, showing that virtually no one there stands with Trump on Russia. Trump’s feuding with the Senate won’t help.
Problem #4: Even if Trump vetoed that bill, and managed to fire Mueller, Congress could then turn around and appoint Mueller as head of a congressional investigation, doing all the same things he was previously doing.
Problem #5: Right now, it’s in the interest of everyone who hates Trump and has damning information to keep it secret, to not compromise the investigation. For example, suppose I know for a fact that Trump met with Russians on a certain date. If I announce that publicly, then Trump can say yeah, I was there, but we “just talked about adoptions”, some excuse. If I keep it quiet, then an investigator can ask Trump, “so, what were you doing on day X?”. And Trump might try to lie, since he doesn’t know that I already have proof. If he does lie, I can then show proof that he’s lying. That’s an instant 18 USC 1001 felony charge, and it’s still a felony even if the meeting itself was legal. If the Mueller investigation is derailed, then this incentive for secrecy goes away. So then, a whole bunch more of it would leak to the press.
Problem #6: Without Mueller there, nobody in politics can use the excuse of “we’re just waiting for the special prosecutor to finish, don’t ask us to do anything, it’s not our department”. Politicians would either have to take action against Trump, or not do so and face the consequences. And those consequences can be very long term. In 1973, Solicitor General Robert Bork obeyed Nixon’s order to fire Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox. Fifteen years later, Reagan nominated Bork for the Supreme Court. But his firing of Cox was used against him, and Bork was denied Senate confirmation. That Supreme Court seat was filled by Anthony Kennedy, who still sits in it today.
Problem #7: If the federal investigation is blocked, Mueller can likely finangle a way to pass it to the state attorneys general also investigating him, such as New York’s Eric Schneiderman. Trump has no control over them, and any charges they brought could not be pardoned, since presidents can only pardon federal crimes.
Problem #8: If Trump did get rid of Mueller, and another investigator was appointed afterwards, Trump has just created additional obstruction of justice charges for himself. He’s also created additional proof of previous obstruction charges, which require evidence of “corrupt intent”.
Problem #9: It’s hard to predict the specifics, but there would also be a likelihood of general chaos, rioting, and so on. This might not happen at all, but it might also escalate unpredictably, as in the Egyptian revolution of 2011. MoveOn is organizing hundreds of Schelling points in advance, to make coordinated action easy if Mueller ever is fired.