Amid growing speculation that President Donald Trump may fire the special counsel overseeing the Russia investigations — which would be by far, the most explosive move of his still young presidency — Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein testified that he would not follow any such order unless he thought there was good cause.
The senior Justice Department official reassured the Senate Committee on Appropriations on Tuesday that he — not the president — is the only official empowered to dismiss special counsel Robert Mueller, who's leading the Justice Department's probe into Russia's meddling in last year's election.
“There is no secret plan [to remove Mueller] that involves me,’’ Rosenstein said.
A longstanding general rule is that unless Congress specifies otherwise, “the power of removal is incident to the power of appointment.”
Because Rosenstein appointed Mueller last month, he should be the only person with the power to fire Mueller. Rosenstein appointed Mueller after Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia probe as he been involved with the Trump presidential campaign and amid reports of his previous undisclosed meetings with the Russian ambassador.
Technically, however, Trump can order Rosenstein to fire Mueller or repeal the regulations that govern his appointment so as to fire Mueller himself.
When asked by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., whether he has found good cause to fire Mueller, Rosenstein said, "No, I have not," adding, "If there were good cause, I would consider it. If there were not good cause, it would not matter to me what anybody said."
Later Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, asked Rosenstein point blank: “If President Trump ordered you to fire the special counsel, what would you do?”
Rosenstein responded: “I am not going to follow any order unless it is a lawful order.’’
His comment comes after a friend of Trump said on Monday that the president is considering firing the special counsel and following a call for Mueller's ousting by a series of top Trump supporters in right-wing media.
“He’s considering perhaps terminating the special counsel,” Christopher Ruddy said during an appearance on PBS’ “NewsHour” on Monday. “He’s weighing that option.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan also pushed back against right-wing attacks on Mueller, saying the special prosecutor should be allowed to continue pursuing his investigation independently.
"The best advice would be to let Robert Mueller do his job," Ryan told reporters on Tuesday.