JAMES CALABRESI ’20
The president of the United States is under investigation for colluding with a foreign country. As the legitimacy of his presidency rests in the balance, the chief executive orders his lawyer to fire the head investigator, in a move that would effectively stall the search into the president’s potential wrongdoings. The setting of this horrid play? Not a back-in-time minor country, where checks and balances are not up to par with the standards of the rest of the world; no, the site of this drama is the year 2018, in the supposed cradle of democracy, the United States of America. This terrifyingly real storyline concerns the breaking New York Times’ scoop that President Trump attempted to fire Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller last June.
The report calls to mind the infamous Saturday Night Massacre of 1973, when President Nixon fired Attorney General Elliot Richardson and his successor William Ruckelshaus over a similar attempt to obstruct the special investigation of the Watergate Scandal by Archibald Cox. Fortunately, our president heard White House attorney Donald McGahn’s threat to resign before following through with the self-serving order. McGahn, despite his shameful record of lobbying Trump to urge Attorney General Jeff Sessions not to recuse himself from the Russian investigation, decided he would follow in the steps of Richardson and Ruckelshaus before carrying out such a ridiculously perverted act. President Trump’s lack of arrogance, normally so ubiquitous, can be partially attributed to the weakness of the reasons the president claimed proved Mr. Mueller’s disqualification.
President Trump’s first reason for Mueller having ‘conflicts of interest’ in the investigation was the fact that Mueller once left one of Trump’s golf clubs in a dispute over dues. While unknowns abound concerning Trump, could he go so far as to convince his doctor to lie about his weight, how many national security briefs does he even read, etc., one thing that is known is his propensity for taking slights as personal attacks, thus the conflation of something so petty with something of such gravity. In all seriousness, Robert Mueller a decorated Marine Corps veteran, former U.S. Deputy Attorney General, and leader of the Federal Bureau of Investigation from 2001 to 2013, most certainly would not hold the disputed country club payments against the president, and his record of flawless adherence to law-based prosecution over the years proves it.
President Trump’s second, and only slightly more legitimate, concern regarding Mr. Mueller’s role as special counsel was that Mr. Mueller’s former law firm had represented Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor to the president, in past litigation. The firm’s representation of Kushner, however, did not involve Mr. Mueller, and even if he had met the Trump-in-law or heard of his association to the firm later, Kushner’s proximity would theoretically only improve Mueller’s treatment of Kushner’s father-in-law, President Trump, not worsen it. The executive’s third reason for why Mueller ought not lead the special investigation was possibly the worst of the bunch. Trump reportedly told Mr. McGahn how he had interviewed Mueller for the possibility of hiring him as interim FBI director following James Comey’s firing. This fact es-tablishes the president’s trust and respect towards Mueller. In fact, to suggest that an interview would make Mueller biased against Trump implies that his interviewing and communication skills are worthy of contempt. While these trivial points may seem a thing of the past now, the threat it could have caused to the definition of “conflict of interest” is still present and will persist so long as Trump reigns. Imagine if the precedent was set that a simple conversation with someone constituted a bias that then might be used to destroy the legitimacy of decades of public service. True, if Trump had been foolhardy enough to go through with the firing, the backlash and resistance to Trump’s reasoning would have been blinding. However, the damage of such unprecedented stupidity conducted by our commander-in-chief might cause, would demand serious attention as to how parties elect candidates or on additional checks for the president, and not to forget, to the crisis American confidence would have as ridicule for American democracy spread around the world.
This is all speculation, but what is not speculation is the way in which the president tried to convince his attorney to fire Robert Mueller. He did not choose to cover his tracks by bringing up the relationship that Mueller had with his then deputy James Comey during the Bush years. And while his reasoning may be chronically flawed, Trump’s intentions have never been clearer. Just Saturday, Foreign Policy reports that Trump ordered aides to smear three FBI em-ployees that could potentially back up the story of Mueller’s near-firing published in the New York Times last Thursday. Now all that is left is for Mueller to drop the obstruction of justice hammer, and I pray that I speak for us all when I say, God, let it be soon.