President Trump has openly declared war on Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating the Russian saga. The president clearly wishes he could fire Mueller; his associates say he’s mused about that for weeks. Now, by stepping up the pressure, he’s moving toward a showdown, and a possible constitutional crisis.
There’s plenty of other craziness billowing from the White House: lawyers considering whether the president can pardon himself, the president publicly denouncing his attorney general for failing to protect him. But the clearest portent of a crisis is the president’s increasingly evident desire to be rid of the meddlesome prosecutor, who appears to be doing his job too well.
The trigger: Mueller’s investigators have reportedly begun looking for evidence of Trump family business deals with Russians — deals the president says never existed.
According to the Washington Post, Trump was especially angry about reports that Mueller was seeking his tax returns, documents the president has guarded fiercely even when it was politically risky to do so.
So far, Trump and his growing army of lawyers are attacking Mueller on two fronts.
First, the scope of Mueller’s mandate. Trump told the New York Times that if the special counsel looks into the workings of his family firm, “That’s a violation.”
“The investigation should stay within the confines of Russian meddling in the election,” his spokeswoman, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, explained. “Nothing beyond that.”
That’s an unusually narrow definition of the special counsel’s mandate — unreasonably narrow, in fact. When Deputy Atty. Gen. Rod Rosenstein appointed Mueller as special counsel, he gave Mueller authority to look into “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign.” If Trump had business relationships with Russians who could be acting on behalf of Vladimir Putin, that would seem quite relevant.