Analysis

Republican strategist says it's time for the GOP to stand up for Mueller

U.S. Senators introduced a bipartisan bill to protect special counsel Robert Mueller after President Donald Trump mused, once again, about firing him.

Liz Mair says messing with Mueller is a red line and could be grounds for impeachment

Speculation that Trump might try to fire special counsel Robert Mueller gained renewed traction this week. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
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by Brent Bambury

When the F.B.I. raided the offices of his personal attorney on Monday, President Donald Trump had a meltdown.

"It's an attack on our country, in a true sense. It's an attack on what we all stand for," Trump said Monday before meeting his national security team to discuss their strategy in Syria.

But it wasn't Bashar al-Assad that Trump had in his sights.

Instead, special counsel Robert Mueller and his team of investigators were the target of Trump's scathing comments. He called them "the most conflicted group of people I have ever seen."

In this June 21, 2017, file photo, special counsel Robert Mueller departs after a meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington. (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

"Why don't you just fire Mueller?" one reporter said.

"Why don't I just fire Mueller?" Trump repeated.

"Yeah, just fire the guy."

"Well," Trump said, "I think it's a disgrace what's going on. We'll see what happens. But I think it's really a sad situation when you look at what happened. And many people have said, 'You should fire him.'"

But Trump didn't fire the special counsel and Liz Mair believes he never will.

"I think he just wouldn't do it because it would make him look so incredibly weak," she says.

"And the reality is, this is a guy who — everything he's had in his life has come from looking like a tough guy. And he can't risk that."

President Trump speaks to reporters at the White House on Monday, April 9, before meeting his national security team to discuss Syria strategy. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

'High drama television'

Mair is a Republican. In 2008, she was the RNC's online communications director. She's been an adviser to Scott Walker, Rand Paul, Rick Perry and Carly Fiorina.

More recently, she was one of many prominent conservatives to sign a petition urging GOP leadership to support Mueller's investigation and condemn any interference "including dismissal of the special counsel."

Still, Mair suspects that when Trump entertained the reporter's question on Monday, he was doing it for the cameras.

"What he did do," Mair says, "is engage in creating some high drama television, which — hey, surprisingly, the guy who used to host The Apprentice likes to do high drama television.

"The cameras were on. People were in the room. He said 'We'll see.'"

Special counsel Robert Mueller and U.S. President Donald Trump. Trump 'doesn't go far if he looks like a weakling and he knows if he fires Mueller he would look like the biggest weakling under the sun,' says Liz Mair. (Alex Wong/Getty and Jim Bourg/Reuters)

Mair believes playing the villain is part of the Trump persona, but so is never looking weak.

"I'm sure that there's a part of him, a sort of devil sitting on his shoulder that wants to just pull the trigger and be done with it," she says.

"But he also is a guy who knows well enough throughout his 71 years on this planet that he doesn't go far if he looks like a weakling and he knows if he fires Mueller he would look like the biggest weakling under the sun."

Conservatives for Mueller

Regardless of whether Trump is just bluffing when he muses on firing Mueller, there are other Republicans telling him he should stop.

"I think the less the president says about this whole thing, the better off he will be," Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley said this week on CNN.

Grassley is currently trying to move a bipartisan bill through the house that would protect the special counsel and his investigation.

Mair supports Grassley's bill because she believes it would have the added benefit of stopping speculation that Trump was about to pull the trigger.

Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's personal attorney, walks along a sidewalk in New York on April 11, 2018. His office was raided Monday. (Seth Wenig/Associated Press)

"It's also so that we can stop some of this stupid U.S. cable news narrative — the constant DEFCON 1, flashing signal breaking news alert, that it means we're going to provoke a constitutional crisis and he's going to set himself up for impeachment by firing Mueller."

Mair says she and other conservatives support Mueller because he's investigating suspected Russian influence in the U.S. election, but she also believes Mueller has helped Trump fulfil some of his agenda.

"[Trump] campaigned on draining the swamp," Mair says.

She argues Mueller's probe has cleansed Washington of some notorious swamp dwellers.

"It has gotten a lot of these influence-peddling lobbyists who will work for literally anybody who offers them enough money — no matter how nefarious and how problematic and how ethically tainted — it has nabbed a bunch of those guys and landed them in hot water," she says.

"And that is swampy behaviour that I think a lot of Americans rightfully have no time for."

Escalating tensions

On Thursday, as leaks from James Comey's book roiled the White House, Trump's week got worse.

"The possibility of Trump exploding has gone up," a former White House official told Politico. But Mair doesn't believe the threat of Trump firing Mueller will increase if Trump gets angrier.

"It's not actually going to protect him, you know, if Mueller goes away or if [Deputy Attorney General Rod] Rosenstein goes away," she says.

Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's personal attorney, left, walks with his attorney Stephen M. Ryan, on Sept. 19, 2017. (Susan Walsh/Associated Press)

"I mean, you're going to have individual FBI agents who are going to be chasing these things down. You're still going to have the investigative press. There's just no way that he can actually fire the dude and improve his situation. "

"And I think if I can figure that one out, there's no way his lawyers haven't figured that one out and haven't conveyed that to him."

But unlike Sen. Grassley, Mair doesn't expect Trump to stop talking about it.

"I think he likes to see people go on TV and say he's justified in firing Mueller. I think it makes him feel good."


To hear the full interview with Liz Mair, download our podcast or click the 'Listen' button at the top of this page.