President Trump will face swift political and legal fallout if he moves to oust Special Counsel Robert Mueller, a lawmaker and legal experts warned at a congressional briefing on Capitol Hill yesterday.
“I think it would blow up in his face catastrophically,” Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said of the “intense blowback” Trump would get from congressional lawmakers and others if he tries to block Mueller’s investigation now, just as top White House officials have been interviewed and former national security adviser Michael Flynn is cooperating with Mueller’s investigators.
But Whitehouse added that he was more concerned about an effort by Trump defenders and “the right-wing media operation” to slowly discredit Mueller and the FBI over time, a move that could embolden Trump to try to fire Mueller a few months from now when support for such a move among his base is higher.
“And then the question is how many of our Republican colleagues will say, ‘OK, that’s a bridge too far?’ ” Whitehouse said.
Legal experts also disagreed with statements made by members of Trump’s legal team that a sitting president cannot commit obstruction of justice for actions taken in his official capacity.
“No person is above the law,” said Norm Eisen, chief ethics lawyer for President Obama. “If any individual attempts to interfere with, block, frustrate or impede a criminal investigation with corrupt intent, then that’s obstruction of justice in a nutshell.”
But while Mueller has the power to indict members of Trump’s White House and campaign teams, including Vice President Pence, his power is more limited when it comes to Trump.
Mueller could lay out facts that support a charge of obstruction against Trump, and “it can be used for articles for impeachment,” said Fordham Law School professor Jed Shugerman. The rest, he said, would fall to Congress.
Barbara L. McQuade, former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan who now teaches at the University of Michigan Law School, said there need not be a finding by Mueller of Russian collusion — the basis of the investigation — to bring charges of obstruction of justice.
The briefing, hosted by the American Constitution Society and the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, was moderated by Boston Herald Washington reporter Kimberly Atkins.
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