Donald Trump caused a bit of a stir late Monday afternoon, publicly speculating about firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Whether the president has the legal authority to do so directly, however, is a subject of some debate.
And yet, there was White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders telling reporters yesterday that Trump "certainly believes he has the power" to oust the special counsel.
There are multiple problems with this. First, by several accounts, it may be wrong. Second, Sanders' comments suggest this has been the topic of some conversation at the White House, inching Team Trump closer to a possible crisis.
And third, it's not just an academic exercise -- because the president has already reportedly taken steps to fire Mueller. The New York Times reported overnight:
In early December, President Trump, furious over news reports about a new round of subpoenas from the office of the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, told advisers in no uncertain terms that Mr. Mueller's investigation had to be shut down.The president's anger was fueled by reports that the subpoenas were for obtaining information about his business dealings with Deutsche Bank, according to interviews with eight White House officials, people close to the president and others familiar with the episode. To Mr. Trump, the subpoenas suggested that Mr. Mueller had expanded the investigation in a way that crossed the "red line" he had set last year in an interview with The New York Times.
If this sounds at all familiar, it's because this wasn't the first time. We learned last year that the president also called for Mueller's ouster in June, but he backed down when White House Counsel Don McGahn threatened to resign. Similarly, Trump was talked out of acting in December.
But if the reports are accurate, the political world shouldn't just shrug its shoulders. A variety of Republican senators argued yesterday, for example, that there's no need to approve legislation to shield the special counsel from White House interference. Trump may huff and puff, GOP lawmakers argued, but there's little to suggest he'd follow through.
Except we keep confronting evidence to the contrary, suggesting the party's wishful thinking may be naive.