NBC News reported today that President Donald Trump has been “talking to friends about the possibility of asking Attorney General Jeff Sessions to consider prosecuting” special counsel Robert Mueller and members of his team on unstated charges as part of the administration’s effort to discredit and defang the Russia investigation. One Trump adviser explained to the network, “Here's how it would work: 'We're sorry, Mr. Mueller, you won't be able to run the federal grand jury today because he has to go testify to another federal grand jury.’"
Several of Trump’s closest media allies, similarly seeking to protect the president by undermining the Mueller probe, have been declaring Mueller guilty of crimes and calling for his arrest and prosecution for months.
On May 19, 2017 — just two days after Mueller was announced as special counsel — Fox judicial analyst Gregg Jarrett wrote that Mueller should resign because he had a conflict of interest in violation of the law governing the special counsel. The conflict, per Jarrett, was that “He and [former FBI director James] Comey are good friends and former colleagues who worked hand-in-hand at the FBI and Department of Justice. Agents will tell you they were joined at the hip.”
Nonetheless, Jarrett’s claims found a ready audience with Fox News host Sean Hannity, who repeatedly cited his theory while arguing that Mueller had broken “not one, but two laws” and needed to resign or be fired. The Fox host has also regularly denounced Mueller’s team as a “Democratic hit squad,” suggesting the team members have a multitude of conflicts of interest of their own.
Hannity — who has spent much of the past year defending Trump from the Russia probe and denouncing his foes in increasingly vitriolic terms — has the ear of the president, who regularly calls Hannity after his nightly broadcast.
Then there’s Jeanine Pirro, a former district attorney and current Fox host who is a friend of the president and was interviewed for the deputy attorney general slot during Trump’s transition. During a November meeting with the president and his top aides in the Oval Office, she reportedly blasted Sessions for not investigating the Uranium One pseudoscandal, urging the appointment of a special counsel to handle the matter.
Longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone has claimed that a Uranium One special counsel would be the key to ending the Mueller investigation, because the incident occurred while he was the head of the FBI and Mueller “can’t be a special prosecutor when he himself is under investigation.” Experts say this doesn’t really make sense — unless Mueller was the target of the second special counsel’s probe.
Pirro has repeatedly called for a criminal investigation of Mueller on Fox. Discussing Uranium One during an October appearance on Fox & Friends, the president’s favorite morning show, she said that Sessions “needs to do a grand jury” because Mueller “is totally conflicted.” She also criticized Mueller during a December rant in which she asserted: “There is a cleansing needed in our FBI and Department of Justice. It needs to be cleansed of individuals who should not just be fired but need to be taken out in handcuffs."
Then there’s the Fox Business host the president calls “the great Lou Dobbs.” “A call for the firing of Robert Mueller no longer really truly satisfies any call for accountability,” Dobbs said on December 4, adding that Mueller and a few others “should be the subjects of criminal investigations and held fully accountable for crimes against the sitting president and the voters who supported them.”
A presidential demand for a criminal investigation into a prosecutor investigating his own conduct would be a step down the dark path toward authoritarianism. It would also fly in the face of long-standing protocols that seek to ensure the rule of law by firewalling the Justice Department’s investigations from White House dictates.
But given Trump’s reported inability to “understand why he cannot simply give orders to ‘my guys’ at what he sometimes calls the ‘Trump Justice Department,’” and his past attempts to pressure senior law enforcement officials to do his bidding and fire those who refuse, the sanctity of those protocols can no longer be guaranteed.
Tonight, the president will reportedly address the need to “see our country united” during the State of the Union speech. His media allies will be cheering him on — and hoping that the next day brings a renewed push to purge the law enforcement apparatus of those insufficiently loyal to the president.