White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders revealed in a briefing on Tuesday that President Donald Trump "certainly believes he has the power" to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading the federal probe into allegations that Russian operatives meddled in the 2016 election and members of the Trump campaign colluded with Russians and obstructed justice.
Reporter: Does the president believe he has the power to fire Special Counsel Mueller?
Press Sec. Sanders: "He certainly believes he has the power to do so." pic.twitter.com/advp0k8JzU
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) April 10, 2018
"We've been advised that the president certainly has the power to make that decision," Sanders reiterated later in the briefing. Her remarks come amid mounting concerns that Trump will fire Mueller—and the American public's promise to launch mass protests if he does.
Reminder as Trump uses the FBI raid of Michael Cohen's offices as a pretext to attack Robert Mueller’s investigation: Trump's obstruction will be met with mass protests nationwide as the number of people signing up at https://t.co/gXgUYMfs6v has swelled to 300K at 800+ locations. pic.twitter.com/71bk1zFYrJ
— Public Citizen (@Public_Citizen) April 10, 2018
Some legal experts argue that only Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein—who is overseeing the investigation because Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself—has the authority to fire Mueller, and since Rosenstein has said he won't dismiss Mueller, Trump would first have to oust Rosenstein.
.@PressSec on whether President Trump has the power to fire Robert Mueller: "I know a number of individuals in the legal community including at the Department of Justice that he has the power to do so." pic.twitter.com/Efwwooevr9
— CSPAN (@cspan) April 10, 2018
While Sanders declined to comment when asked whether Trump is considering firing Rosenstein, the New York Times reported Tuesday that Rosenstein personally signed off on the raid of targeting Trump's attorney, which could provoke retaliation from the president.
On Monday, FBI agents with the public corruption unit executed a search warrant for the office and residence of longtime Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, seeking documents related to reported payments to two women who say they had affairs with the president.
Sources told the Times that the searches "enraged" Trump, "setting off an angry public tirade Monday evening that continued in private at the White House as the president fumed about whether he should fire Mr. Rosenstein"—a Republican whom Trump handpicked to serve under Sessions.
"The episode has deeply unsettled White House aides, Justice Department officials, and lawmakers from both parties, who believe the president may use it as a pretext to purge the team leading the investigation into Russia meddling," the Times added, noting that "advisers have spent the last 24 hours trying to convince the president not to make an impulsive decision that could put the president in more legal jeopardy and ignite a controversy that could consume his presidency."
Despite concerns that Trump may target both Mueller and Rosenstein for their roles in facilitating the raid, Andrew Cohen, an attorney and fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice (with no known relation to Trump's lawyer), argued in Rolling Stone on Tuesday that the raid "is not a Trump v. Mueller thing" but rather "a reminder of the deplorable character of so many of the people with whom the president has chosen to associate himself over the years."
Pointing to reports that Michael Cohen is actually being investigated for bank fraud, campaign finance violations, and money laundering, Andrew Cohen asserts that "the most important thing to say about what happened Monday is that it would not have happened—it could not have happened—unless a lot of smart lawyers and public officials at the Justice Department signed off on it." Noting that Mueller apparently went to Rosenstein with evidence that Michael Cohen may have committed crimes outside the scope of the special counsel mandate, Andrew Cohen explains:
Rosenstein responded to this "referral" by undertaking an independent-of-Mueller investigation through the Justice Department and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York. That review had to comply with standing DOJ procedures and guidelines designed to handle cases like this, where attorney-client privileged matters may be the subject of a federal search. All of this means that Rosenstein and company were convinced on their own that the search—and not a subpoena—was warranted.
Rosenstein and others had to have been convinced that there was probable cause to believe a crime may have been committed. And not just convinced on their own, but confident enough in their own convictions to have taken their request to a federal judge who signed off on a search warrant. Trump v. Mueller? If this is, as the president said, another witch hunt, there are an awful lot of accomplished, respected hunters coming for their witch with the full weight of federal law and procedure on their side.