Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) spoke with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt this week about the prospect of President Donald Trump's firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller. From his perspective, it would trigger a constitutional crisis and rise to an impeachable offense.
Hewitt asked the Palmetto State's senior Senator if firing Mueller would be an impeachable offense, to which Graham replied, "probably so, if he did it without cause, yeah."
I think what the president will have done is stopped an investigation in[to] whether or not his campaign colluded with the Russians, what effect the Russians had on the 2016 campaign. I can’t see it being anything other than a corrupt purpose...to stop investigation without cause, I think, would be a constitutional crisis.
Under the Department of Justice Special Counsel Regulations, special prosecutors can be terminated “only by the personal action of the Attorney General and only for good cause,” or physical or mental impairments. It explained that “[i]n addition to the affirmative grant of independence, the other critical hallmark of independence, indeed the guardian of it, is the freedom from removal, absent good cause.”
The president also lacks the authority to fire Mueller directly, though he could fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions, appoint a new AG during a Senate recess, and have Mueller dismissed by the new AG.
Or he could order Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to do the deed, although Rosenstein has said he sees no justification for firing the Special Counsel (Trump could then presumably continue down the ladder at the Justice Department until someone agrees to do it).
Still, Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) and other Senate Democrats are pushing for bipartisan legislation to protect Mueller and his investigation, which would outline the consequences of a Mueller dismissal. Said Coons:
Clearly stating to the president what the consequences would be, how seriously we would take that, is something I’m going to be working relentlessly on this week, and trying to find Republican partners willing to do that.
Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) tweeted on Thursday that the American public should engage in peaceful protest if the president decides to terminate the Special Counsel.
Some senators have expressed their hesitation to protect Mueller and his investigation with legislation, however, and they're not just Republicans. “Obviously, legislation requires a presidential signature. I don’t see the necessity of picking that fight right now,” said Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), the number 2 Republican in the Senate.
The top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Diane Feinstein (D-CA) also said that legislation isn't necessary because the likelihood of Trump firing Mueller, or finding a way to do so, is small. Firing Mueller “would rip apart this administration,” Feinstein said.
I don’t think we need it. I was listening to various comments even from Republicans like Trey Gowdy. And people felt very strongly it would be a major breach for the president to fire Mr. Mueller. I agree with that.
Earlier this week, Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) parroted Graham's conclusion that firing Mueller would lead to impeachment.
We are begging the president not to fire the special counsel. Don't create a constitutional crisis. Congress cannot preempt such a firing. Our only constitutional remedy is after the fact, through impeachment. No one wants that outcome. Mr. President, please don't go there.