Richard Painter was an “ethics” lawyer in the George W. Bush administration. He has tweeted that if President Trump fires “special counsel” Robert Mueller, then “Mike Pence will soon become the 46th President.”
Painter supported Hillary Clinton for president last year. He went so far as to file a ridiculous ethics complaint against then-FBI Director James Comey over Comey’s handling of the Clinton email investigation. He alleged that the Director violated the Hatch Act which bars the use of an official position to influence an election.
To say that Painter is biased against President Trump would be an understatement. But is he right that Trump would be removed from office if he fires Mueller?
I don’t think so. Removing Trump would require substantial Republican support — first in the House and then in the Senate. Even if the Democrats capture the House in 2018 and overcome the adverse math in the Senate to pick up seats, they would still need substantial Republican support in the Senate to remove Trump.
On the facts we know now, that support almost certainly not not be forthcoming. For one thing, it wouldn’t be a high crime or misdemeanor for the president to fire Mueller, Washington D.C. icon though he may be.
For another, again on the facts we know now, it would not be in the interests of most Republicans to support the impeachment of Trump. I’m under no illusion that many Republican House and Senate members have any affection for, or loyalty to, Trump. Some may dislike him almost as much as Painter does.
But there’s no future in committing political suicide. As we saw during the primary season, the Trump base makes up a substantial part of the Republican electorate. It hasn’t wavered in its support for the president, and wouldn’t do so in the event of a Mueller firing.
This enormous bloc of voters wouldn’t take kindly to Republicans who vote to remove their man. Painter needs to explain how Republican Senators plan to win reelection if they stab Trump in the back, as his supporters would see it.
And it wouldn’t just be the Trump base that “disloyal” Senators would have to worry about. I’m not part of that base. Indeed, I preferred almost every candidate in the Republican presidential primary field to Trump. Yet, I would be hard-pressed to vote for a Republican member of Congress who voted to remove the president based on the evidence that has come to light so far, coupled with the decision to remove Mueller.
I have my doubts as to whether firing Mueller is the prudent move for Trump. But I seriously doubt that doing so would lead to Trump’s removal. In fact, it may be that the odds of removal are greater if Mueller and his team of left-leaning partisans stay on and devote endless resources to conjuring up a case against the president.