The president has been laying the rhetorical groundwork to sack Mueller for months, questioning his impartiality and the appropriateness of his probe, while reportedly calling on White House staff to remove him, an order they have so far refused. His attacks on Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees Mueller, now follow the same pattern. With his usual unabashed inconsistency, Trump alleges that Rosenstein should be replaced for signing the letter justifying former FBI Director James Comey’s firing, which Trump claimed himself to have ordered.
It is true that Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Rosenstein serve at the president’s pleasure, but both are vulnerable to his corrupt instinct for self-preservation, which apparently urges him daily to shutter the investigation. The president’s effort to obstruct justice through removing them is every bit as concerning as his desire to do the same with Mueller. The replacement of either could give the president a willing ally to fire or impede Mueller, or remove federal special-counsel regulations so that Trump can do so himself.
Dismissing Sessions or Rosenstein would be a brazen effort to influence or impede the investigation and shield the president from accountability under the law, especially in the wake of the recent raid on Trump lawyer Michael Cohen and mounting legal pressure on his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
The president’s false pretenses for taking action against Sessions and Rosenstein are transparently malicious. They represent the most recent phase of his campaign to undermine the rule of law. It’s not that there aren’t valid concerns with Jeff Sessions’s fitness to serve as attorney general, including his own reluctantly reported contacts with Russian officials. There are. But Trump’s concern is with no such matter, but rather with Sessions’s and Rosenstein’s refusal to bend to his corruptive will.
Trump’s attack on the rule of law and the essential institutions of American democracy is not a partisan issue, a contest between the left and the right. He is forcing a fight for the integrity of our system of self-rule, for our liberty.
Around the world, anti-democratic leaders pursue two agendas before all else: undermine the free press and erode the independence of law enforcement and the judiciary. Trump has done both, using the reach and authority of his office to attempt to stifle unfavorable reporting as he attacks investigators, judges, and agencies who might also hold him accountable.
If the federal justice system lacks sufficient independence to use its authority to discover potential crimes of the president or his associates, the chances of ensuring the accountability of the person we elect to that role are severely diminished.
The press offers another avenue through which truth can be revealed, but journalists lack the legal authority often needed to discover hidden wrongdoing, and without law enforcement’s pursuit of facts, journalistic efforts become even more difficult as well. Most importantly, the ability of ordinary Americans to hold their leaders accountable through political processes relies on the healthy functioning of these two sources of information, and is severely impaired by their absence.