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Tuesday
Jun132017

Who can fire special counsel Robert Mueller?

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Speculation is swirling about whether President Donald Trump will remove special counsel Robert Mueller from his post.

Mueller, a former FBI director, was appointed on May 17 and is tasked with investigating Russian interference in last year's presidential election and if associates of the Trump campaign colluded with Russian officials.

Despite the speculation, Principal Deputy White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters Tuesday that "while the president has the right to [fire Mueller], he has no intention to do so."

However, a close confidante of Trump's said Mueller's ousting is under consideration.

Chris Ruddy, an ABC News contributor and a longtime friend of Trump and the CEO of the conservative media company Newsmax, first told PBS in an interview Monday that the president is “considering, perhaps, terminating the special counsel, he’s weighing that option."

Ruddy told ABC News that he stands by his comments that the president is considering asking Rosenstein to terminate Mueller. “Trump is definitely considering it ... it’s not something that’s being dismissed,” Ruddy said.

The revelation came after Ruddy was at the White House on Monday for a meeting with Chief Strategist Steve Bannon.

According to a senior White House aide, there are no private conversations taking place about firing Mueller, and a White House spokesperson said Ruddy "speaks for himself."

Legal logistics

Federal regulation states that the termination of a special counsel would have to come from the attorney general's office.

"The Special Counsel may be disciplined or removed from office only by the personal action of the Attorney General," the Code of Federal Regulation states.

"The Attorney General may remove a Special Counsel for misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity, conflict of interest, or for other good cause, including violation of Departmental policies. The Attorney General shall inform the Special Counsel in writing of the specific reason for his or her removal," it says.

Since Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself from any Russia-related investigations, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein would then have the authority to remove Mueller.

Historic precedent

Some have compared Trump's firing of then-FBI Director James Comey in May to the storied "Saturday Night massacre" that occurred during Richard Nixon's presidency.

In 1973 President Richard Nixon ordered his attorney general to fire Archibald Cox, the special prosecutor who was leading the Watergate investigation. The attorney general, Elliot Richardson, resigned rather than doing so, putting the onus on deputy attorney general William Ruckelshaus, who also chose to resign.

Solicitor general Robert Bork ultimately fired Cox.

In Mueller's case, Trump would have to ask Rosenstein to do the firing. If Rosenstein declined, the task would then fall to acting solicitor general Jeffrey Wall.

Unified reactions


A number of key Republicans have publicly advised Trump to keep Mueller.

"I think we should let Bob Mueller do his work and get to the bottom of it, and get to the bottom of it quickly so that he can be vindicated, get to these things. Let’s not forget what this is originally all about. Russia is up to no good. Russia is trying to meddle into our elections," House Speaker Paul Ryan said today in an appearance on "The Hugh Hewitt Show."

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich said Tuesday on ABC's "Good Morning America" that while he feels "independent counsels are very dangerous," he doesn't think Trump should force Mueller out.

"I don't think Trump should do anything but the congressional Republicans ought to look into it," Gingrich said.

Both Gingrich and Ken Starr were closely involved in the investigation and impeachment of former President Bill Clinton. Starr was the special prosecutor in the case.

Starr on Monday called Mueller "a great man" who is "honest as the day is long" and has a "great, great team of complete professionals."

"Firing special prosecutors tends not to work as we all learned from Watergate," Starr said in an interview on "GMA," adding that "it would be very wise to allow the special counsel to do his work."

What the Trump administration has said

During a press conference on May 18, the day after Mueller was named special counsel, ABC News' chief White House correspondent Jonathan Karl asked Trump if his appointment was the right move.

"Well, I respect the move, but the entire thing has been a witch hunt. And there is no collusion between certainly myself and my campaign, but I can always speak for myself -- and the Russians, zero," Trump responded.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer said on June 6 that he had "not discussed" whether Trump felt comfortable with Mueller as special counsel.

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