For weeks, President Donald Trump’s supporters inside and outside of government have called special counsel Robert Mueller “corrupt.” They’ve claimed that his investigation into team Trump’s possible with collusion with Russia is putting the country at risk of a “coup d’etat” and have called for his removal.
Now one of Trump’s lawyers has taken things a step further and called for a new investigation into Mueller himself.
Jay Sekulow, one of the president’s top lawyers, told Axios on Tuesday said the latest reports of anti-Trump staff on Mueller’s team means someone should look into his staff. “These new revelations require the appointment of a Special Counsel to investigate," he added.
Let’s be clear about what this means: One of the president’s chief legal advisers just called for an investigation into the investigators.
Mueller, a widely respected former FBI director, has since May led the probe into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to win the 2016 presidential election. And it’s important to note that top Republicans — like House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — continue to say that they support Mueller’s investigation.
But Sekulow’s proposal represents something new, and comes at an interesting time: Mueller appears to be closing in on Trump’s inner circle. He has already charged four people — two of whom pleaded guilty, including former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Some believe Trump’s son-in-law and top adviser Jared Kushner could be the next target.
The darker side to this is that there is growing suspicion that Trump may soon fire Mueller. If he does, it could spark a constitutional crisis and lead to charges that the president removed the special counsel to cover up any potential wrongdoing.
But Trump’s supporters may actually back the president if he removes Mueller — using the public case some conservatives have been making more and more loudly in recent weeks.
Why some conservatives think Mueller should go
It’s important to note that Sekulow is only one of four lawyers representing Trump and the White House in the Russia probe. John Dowd, Trump’s lead personal lawyer, represents Trump’s personal interests against the Mueller probe. Sekulow works closely with Dowd and leads media engagement on the investigation. Ty Cobb, the White House special counsel, is Trump’s lead White House lawyer for the probe. And Don McGahn, the White House counsel, is the White House’s top lawyer, but he handed over the Russia investigation portfolio over to Cobb.
It’s not at all clear that Sekulow speaks for the other lawyers, including Cobb, who has pursued a conciliatory and non-confrontational approach to the Mueller probe.
There are three main arguments that Trump loyalists — and now Sekulow, who is more aggressive when pushing back against Mueller than his legal counterparts — are using to discredit Mueller.
First, they say that Mueller is friends with former FBI Director James Comey, whom the president fired in May since he wouldn’t stop the Russia investigation. Comey’s unceremonious departure, subsequently, led to Mueller’s appointment to continue the probe and look into whether Trump obstructed justice by removing Comey.
Second, they point to Uranium One, a faux scandal where right-wingers claim then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton approved the sale of 20 percent of America’s uranium to Russia. Mueller led the FBI during an investigation into a possible Russian bribery and extortion scheme that some conservatives believe led to the sale. That, they say, shows Mueller has his own complicated history with Clinton — Trump’s political rival — and Russia.
And finally, the president’s fans claim Mueller’s team is full of anti-Trump partisans. They mainly point to the case of Peter Strzok, a former top FBI counterintelligence official who sent text messages critical of Trump and changed how Comey publicly described Clinton’s use of a private email server when she was secretary of state from “grossly negligent" to "extremely careless.” That change had the effect of softening Comey’s criticism of Clinton at a particularly sensitive time in the 2016 campaign. Mueller removed Strzok from his investigative team in August.
To sum it all up, Trump allies are trying to build a public case to justify Mueller's firing — and perhaps to defend the president afterward.
It was one thing when a bunch of pro-Trump partisans made that case. But now that one of Trump’s lawyers is making that case publicly too, it’s possible Trump is getting that kind of advice in private.