Left column, from top to bottom: Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, Michael Flynn, and Fox News host Sean Hannity. | AP and Fox. Center column: Trump and Robert Mueller. | AP
By John Wojcik / 12.20.2017
The attack on democracy and the rule of law by Donald Trump, Fox News, and GOP lawmakers continues unabated, with fear rising that a major authoritarian move by the president is possible during the holiday season. Press reports yesterday were that Trump has been talking regularly with a variety of right-wing media personalities who are leading the charge against Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
In response, a broad coalition of groups is promising rapid response demonstrations in 600 cities and towns across the country with hundreds of thousands pledging online that they will attend. Eric Holder, the former U.S. Attorney General is saying that mass action by the people is needed now to defend democracy in America.
While no one has a crystal ball that can predict what Trump and his top-level backers will do, one thing is for sure: Truth is on the side of the people planning to demonstrate if the president fires Mueller or otherwise tries to cripple investigations into Trump’s own crimes.
Regardless of what Trump thinks and what Fox News is demanding, it would be illegal for Trump to fire Robert Mueller. The only person who can legally do that at this point is Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is directly supervising Mueller.
The law also makes it clear that regardless of his position, the president cannot use any of the powers given him by the U.S. Constitution for a criminal purpose—which is exactly the category under which firing Mueller would fall. Firing Mueller would also, of course, be clear proof that the president is obstructing justice.
Another important thing to keep in mind is that Mueller knows far more than any of us. The charges, indictments, and guilty pleas that are already out in the open point, by themselves, to the guilt of the president. The only person saying the president is innocent is Trump himself. His strongest supporters in the GOP and in the right-wing media have all been careful to refrain from claiming he is innocent.
His Republican Party backers, in particular, have struck a Faustian bargain with him so they can ram through their political agenda, but, knowing what they know, they certainly want to be in a position to eventually say they never claimed Trump was innocent. So they and all their right-wing pals in the media do what allows them to cover their own behinds. Instead of claiming the president is innocent, they instead go on a campaign to destroy the reputation of Mueller and therefore destroy public confidence in the investigation.
The issue for them is not that there is a criminal in the White House but that someone (Mueller) is orchestrating a “coup” against the elected president. The fact that Trump’s strongest allies have adopted this strategy speaks volumes about what they really think about his guilt or innocence.
If Trump did try to fire Mueller, no one in his or her right mind should think Mueller would just step aside. With hundreds of thousands likely pouring into the streets in protest, it is likely he would simply say that, based on the law, the president has no such authority. This would force Trump to order Rosenstein to fire Mueller.
Rosenstein, too, is unlikely to comply. As prescribed by law, Mueller has been going to Rosenstein every 90 days to review the progress of his investigation and to get approval for next steps. Thus far, it is clear Rosenstein is on the same page as Mueller. He has obviously approved Mueller’s ever-expanding investigation. In addition, he made clear just days ago in testimony to Congress that he sees no reason to fire Mueller and would not do so unless there was just cause.
The next person down the line would be Rachel Brand, who would also probably refuse to follow Trump’s edict. She is unlikely to want her legacy to be like that of Robert Bork, the person in the Department of Justice who, under Richard Nixon’s order, eventually complied with the president’s directive to fire the Watergate prosecutor, Archibald Cox, in the infamous Saturday Night Massacre of October 1973.
While Trump could conceivably find someone at DOJ to fire Mueller—he can just keep firing his way down the chain until he gets to a lackey to go along with him—some believe he can achieve his aims better by going down other routes.
Elizabeth de la Varga, a former assistant U.S. attorney for San Francisco, told Politico this week that the orchestrated right-wing attack on Mueller and his staff may not be a prelude to firing Mueller, but to justifying Trump pardons of anyone Mueller indicts. She called pardons a “smarter strategy” for Trump because he “prefers to be manipulative.”
Mueller has already indicted three former top Trump campaign staffers and obtained a guilty plea on one count of lying to the FBI from former Trump National Security Director Michael Flynn. And Trump himself raised the possibility of pardoning Flynn. “I don’t want to talk about pardons for Flynn yet,” he told reporters on Dec. 15. “We’ll see what happens, we’ll see.”
That led every Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee to demand hearings on presidential pardons. They wrote chairman Robert Goodlatte, R-Va., on Dec. 18 that Trump, “by sending a signal he may pardon Michael Flynn and perhaps others willing to assist Mr. Mueller, has raised serious concerns about obstruction of justice and abuse of the pardon power.”
Another option for Trump would have him going a much more dangerous route: declaring that he has the authority to fire Mueller and order federal cops to physically remove Mueller and lock up his offices. Nixon did that after Bork finally fired Cox in ‘73.
He could also fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions and install a new one of his choosing and have that person fire Mueller.
Any of these options would plunge the country essentially into a constitutional crisis. Congress can pass a bill that would stop Trump from putting in another attorney general who would fire Mueller, but to expect the Republican-controlled Congress and Senate to act in defense of democracy is clearly, at this time, too much to expect. They are too busy working with Trump on transferring massive wealth from the working class to the ruling class (witness the tax bill passed this week). Democrats could initiate such a move in Congress but would need some Republicans in both houses of Congress to cross over and back them.
Too horrible to even contemplate is that Trump might think he has the option of starting a war. What better way to turn attention away from his crimes? War with North Korea, which could escalate into a nuclear conflict, is something about which serious voices have already expressed concern.
The only sure bet right now—when it comes to defending our democracy—is mass action by the people, action loud enough and strong enough to compel lawmakers to act.
We are long past the point of trying to find out whether the president is guilty of impeachable and criminal offenses. He is clearly guilty of everything his close associates have been charged with and probably a lot more.
He is a president who lies, cheats, and cavorts with international gangsters. He is a president who wages class warfare against the working class and its allies, widening the wage gap and stealing from the working class to further enrich the ruling class. He is a president whose erratic behavior endangers the peace of the world. He is, simply put, dangerous.
What will he do, for example, if Jared Kushner or his daughter Ivanka were indicted? Some analysts have said Mueller is closing in on Kushner and could be planning an indictment of him fairly soon. When he questioned Kushner, Mueller already had a lot of information from Michael Flynn. Kushner was unaware that Mueller had this information, so if Kushner has lied, Mueller certainly has the goods on him. Kushner may very well have already cooked his own goose, which would help explain why, earlier this week, word got out that he had already hired his own legal crisis management team.
Whatever Trump does, however, it is clear that democracy in America is in grave danger. Relying on the courts or any other institution Trump is attacking, including the free press, will not, unfortunately, be sufficient. It has not been sufficient thus far and the various options open to Trump allow him to continue to do further damage. Only a united fight back by the people themselves has the potential of compelling those who steer our nation’s institutions to do the right thing.
Get ready to go out into the streets. There hasn’t been a time in U.S. history that united political action has been needed as much as it is now. People did this when Nixon threatened our democracy, and they will have to do it again this time. The marches, sit-ins, and rallies, after they start, must continue every day, growing larger by the day. The emails and telephone lines into the offices of every lawmaker must be jammed. The massive nationwide demonstrations and civil disobedience must continue until the nightmare ends. The people have stepped up and done this time and again in the past. They can surely be expected to do it again.
Originally published by People’s World under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 United States license.