Ty Cobb, who leads the personal legal team President Donald Trump assembled to respond to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, is blaming the media for questions about whether Trump plans to fire Mueller. There’s no reason for journalists to take that criticism seriously. Trump’s other lawyers have suggested that Mueller’s probe into the interactions between Trump associates and Russia should be terminated, echoing the president’s media allies, who have called for the special counsel’s firing or resignation dozens of times.
In a statement Sunday night, Cobb said, “In response to media speculation and related questions being posed to the Administration, the White House yet again confirms that the President is not considering or discussing the firing of the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller.”
But the speculation Cobb criticized came in part in response to comments from another member of Trump’s legal team. On Saturday morning, responding to the Justice Department’s firing of former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, John Dowd told The Daily Beast, “I pray that Acting Attorney General [Rod] Rosenstein will follow the brilliant and courageous example of the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility and Attorney General Jeff Sessions and bring an end to [the] alleged Russia Collusion investigation manufactured by McCabe’s boss James Comey based upon a fraudulent and corrupt Dossier.” With Sessions having recused himself because he was part of Trump’s campaign, Rosenstein currently oversees the Mueller probe, and he has repeatedly said that he opposes ending the investigation.
On Saturday night, Trump tweeted, “The Mueller probe should never have been started in that there was no collusion and there was no crime.”
Dowd’s comment was far from the first call from a Trump lawyer for ending Mueller’s investigation. In June, Jay Sekulow set off a firestorm when he was asked if Trump would “promise not to interfere, not attempt at anytime to order the deputy attorney general to fire Robert Mueller.” Sekulow did not give a definitive response, instead saying, “If there was a basis … that raised the kind of issues that are serious, as in the situation with James Comey, the president has authority to take action. Whether he will do it is ultimately a decision the president makes.”
Sekulow is a longtime fixture on right-wing TV and sometime guest host of Sean Hannity’s radio show. While he has “virtually no experience in law enforcement investigations or white-collar matters,” he was reportedly hired to serve as “the omnipresent TV face of Trump's defense” because the president liked the way that Sekulow defended Trump in cable news appearances.
Since Trump hired him, Sekulow has suggested that Mueller has a conflict of interest due to a purported friendship with former FBI director James Comey; repeatedly called for a criminal investigation of Comey; and demanded the appointment of a special counsel to investigate Mueller’s team (he later walked back that call).
While Sekulow has said there is “no basis” for firing Mueller, he frequently appears on Fox alongside Hannity, whose show has featured a drumbeat of calls for Mueller’s termination. The result has been exchanges like this one from June after Hannity said the special counsel should “resign immediately”:
HANNITY: He needs to go, right or wrong?
SEKULOW: Look, here's how you handle it --
HANNITY: He needs to go.
SEKULOW: Look, here's the situation. I'm one of the president's lawyers.
HANNITY: All right, I'll say it. He needs to go.
While Trump’s personal lawyers have wavered, White House counsel Donald F. McGahn II reportedly told Trump in June he would resign rather then execute the president’s order to instruct the Justice Department to remove Mueller. Trump backed down.
While it would be difficult for the president to fire the special counsel directly without facing a legal challenge, he can order Rosenstein to fire him. Rosenstein would then have to either carry out the president’s order or resign. Trump could then pose the same order to Rosenstein’s replacement, continuing until he found someone willing to fire Mueller. Trump could also replace Sessions with someone who would not be recused from the Russia investigation, who could end the probe.
In deciding whether and how to kick off a constitutional crisis, the president is likely seeking advice from beyond the typical set of lawyers and White House aides. Trump consumes hours of cable news every day and has close ties with numerous TV personalities. He doesn’t just watch their shows; he calls them up, brings them to the White House, and even hires them into his administration.
On air, these propagandists play to Trump’s worst impulses, urging him to behave like an authoritarian by prosecuting his political foes and describing the Mueller probe as a “coup.” The ad hoc outside advisers from the president’s television screen include Hannity and Jeanine Pirro, who have led the pro-Trump media’s frequent calls for ending the Mueller investigation and “cleansing” the ranks of the Justice Department and FBI.
Here are some of the calls for the termination of the special counsel probe:
Hannity: “Mueller needs to, I'm sorry, he needs to be removed.” [Fox News, Hannity, 6/8/17]
Fox political contributor Newt Gingrich: Congress should “abolish” the special counsel. [The Hill, 6/11/17]
Hannity: “This special counsel, Mueller, needs to be shut down immediately.” [Fox News, Hannity, 6/12/17]
Fox legal analyst Gregg Jarrett: “The acting attorney general who appointed Mueller should fire him.” [Fox News, Hannity, 6/12/17]
Hannity: “Mueller and Rod Rosenstein, recuse themselves, resign immediately.” [Fox News, Hannity, 6/14/17]
Hannity: Mueller “should recuse himself,” “needs to end this witch hunt right now.” [Fox News, Hannity, 6/20/17]
Radio host Rush Limbaugh: “One way to end” the Russia probe “is just pardon everybody that Mueller is investigating, right now.” [Premiere Radio Networks, The Rush Limbaugh Show, 7/21/17]
Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade calls for an end date for the Russia investigation: “Six months is enough.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 8/31/17]
WSJ editorial: Mueller “should step down in favor of someone more credible.”
The latest news supports our view that Mr. Mueller is too conflicted to investigate the FBI and should step down in favor of someone more credible. The investigation would surely continue, though perhaps with someone who doesn’t think his job includes protecting the FBI and Mr. Comey from answering questions about their role in the 2016 election. [The Wall Street Journal, 12/4/17]
Fox Business’ Lou Dobbs: “A call for the firing of Robert Mueller no longer really truly satisfies any call for accountability,” so he should be prosecuted. [Media Matters, 12/8/17]
Investor’s Business Daily: “FBI, Mueller Investigation Of Trump Is Politicized — Shut It Down.” [Investor’s Business Daily, 12/4/17]
American Spectator’s Scott McKay: “Trump should tell Mueller he has until Christmas to bring an indictment against someone for collusion with the Russians, or else he’s fired and his probe gets disbanded.” [The American Spectator, 12/5/17]
Roger Stone in Daily Caller: “Why Robert Mueller Must Be Removed And His Partisan Hit Squad Dismantled.” [The Daily Caller, 12/20/17]
Wash. Times’ Cheryl Chumley: “Mr. Mueller, shut down this sham investigation.” [The Washington Times, 1/23/18]
Townhall’s Jeff Crouere: “The Mueller Witch Hunt Must End.” [Townhall, 2/3/18]
Hannity: Mueller’s “investigation should be shut down immediately.” [Fox News, Hannity, 3/12/18]
Additional research provided by Nick Fernandez, Alex Kaplan, and Nina Mast