President Donald Trump should let Special Counsel Robert Mueller finish his investigation into Russia’s engagement with the Trump campaign. Truncating Mueller’s work at this point gives Democrats a powerful corruption narrative heading into the 2018 midterms.
To be clear, Democrats will use allegations of corruption as a campaign tool in midterm elections regardless of Trump’s decision regarding Mueller. Their base will love it, and Trump voters will largely ignore it. That’s the simple reality of our polarized political environment. At this point, criminal allegations about Trump are largely speculative.
Firing Mueller would be a game changer.
Democrats gain instant credibility on the corruption front and a blank slate to imagine it. They’ll claim that Trump fired Mueller because of what the investigation discovered and explain that we may never know how bad it is as long as Republicans are in charge. In politics, perception is everything, and the optics of firing Mueller couldn’t be worse.
Trump might attempt to stem political backlash by suggesting that Mueller is on a political witch-hunt, but that’s unlikely to hold much water.
Mueller is a George W. Bush appointee that Barack Obama retained during his administration. He is so widely respected by both Democrats and Republicans that Congress created a special two-year term to allow his continued service beyond the 10-year term limit imposed on FBI directors.
Moreover, Rod Rosenstein, a Republican-nominated Deputy Attorney General who worked on the Whitewater investigation into President Bill Clinton, appointed Mueller as special counsel.
That’s hardly the profile of a political hack.
Other typical attacks against special counsels in the past–broad investigatory focus, lack of accountability, and budgetary uncertainty–don’t jump out as ironclad reasons to fire Mueller either.
In short, the political consequences for firing Mueller would be significant. If Trump hasn’t committed any crimes, he’s paying a premium to end an investigation that won’t find much of anything.
Even if Trump has committed impeachment-level offenses, firing Mueller is far from a sure bet to hide from them. The political drumbeat to continue the investigation would be so loud that Trump would either have to appoint another special counsel or risk Republicans reassessing their position on impeachment amidst a chorus of Democrats calling for it. If midterm elections are catastrophic for Republicans, Trump could wind up facing a House of Representatives willing to impeach him and narrow enough margins in the Senate to actually remove him.
Trump must let the legal process work. Mueller’s investigation needs the opportunity to reach legal conclusions. If Mueller determines that Trump or members of his campaign violated the law, Trump has every right to defend himself and his team members both publicly and through the legal process. On the other hand, firing Mueller prior to the end of his investigation gives Democrats another component to their corruption narrative and the credibility to deal a devastating blow to Republicans in 2018. Defending against that may prove far more difficult.
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