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If Trump moves to fire Mueller, is it all over?

Former FBI Director Robert Mueller, seen here on

Former FBI Director Robert Mueller, seen here on on June 19, 2013, and President Donald Trump, seen on Dec. 15, 2017. Credit: Composite: AFP / Getty Images / Saul Loeb and Brendan Smialowski

Call for backup

If Donald Trump moves to get rid of special counsel Robert Mueller and his Russia investigation, there is little to stop him unless the Republicans controlling Congress are willing to step up.

Would they? Is Trump ready to gamble that they wouldn’t?

There were strong words of support for Mueller from Republicans on the Sunday show circuit after the president and one of his lawyers, John Dowd, attacked him directly for the first time over the weekend.

Getting rid of Mueller “would be the beginning of the end of his presidency, because we’re a rule-of-law nation,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)

“When you are innocent ... act like it,” said Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) “If you’ve done nothing wrong, you should want the investigation to be as fulsome and thorough as possible.”

But bipartisan bills designed to protect Mueller have stalled in Congress. The Senate’s second-ranking Democrat, Dick Durbin of Illinois, said Trump could trigger a “constitutional crisis” and called for passing the legislation.

On that, GOP leadership remained silent. A spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul Ryan said only that he believes “Mueller and his team should be able to do their job.” See Newsday’s story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez and Scott Eidler.

Never mind; all calm now

If it was all a trial balloon, the White House deflated it Sunday night. A statement from lawyer Ty Cobb said:

“In response to media speculation and related questions being posed to the Administration, the White House yet again confirms that the President is not considering or discussing the firing of the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller.”

He doesn’t tweet under oath

Trump’s Twitter tirade against Mueller was replete with falsehoods and half-truths.

In Trump’s telling, the investigation was “based on fraudulent activities and a Fake Dossier.” In reality, it began months earlier — after former campaign aide George Papadopoulos bragged to an Australian diplomat about Russian dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Tweeted Trump: “There was no crime.” But so far, four of his former campaign aides have been charged with financial crimes or with lying to the FBI, and three of them have pleaded guilty.

Trump said Mueller’s team consists of “hardened Democrats” (whatever that means) and “Zero Republicans.” Mueller is a Republican. As is Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general who appointed Mueller after Trump fired former FBI Director James Comey — also a Republican.

The president's end game is unclear as always. One result of his agitation: Even before publication, Comey's defiant memoir tops Amazon's best seller list. 

McCabe wrote it down

Andrew McCabe, the former FBI deputy director fired just before he would have qualified for a full pension, is reported to have made detailed notes after his meetings with Trump, just as Comey did, and has given copies to Mueller, who has been looking at potential obstruction of justice.

Trump’s reaction: “He never took notes when he was with me. ... Can we call them Fake Memos?”

Capitol Hill opinion has been divided on McCabe’s firing. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said an inspector general’s report found McCabe wasn’t candid with internal investigators and improperly let information about a Clinton Foundation probe be passed to reporters.

McCabe denies wrongdoing, and Democrats point to Trump’s repeated attacks on McCabe as showing a “vindictive” motive.

Two GOP senators on the Judiciary Committee — Graham and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) — said they want to review whether the firing was justified. “We need as much transparency as possible to make sure it wasn’t politically motivated,” Graham said.

What set him off

Trump held back for months from attacking Mueller by name even as he fulminated about the “witch hunt.” What changed?

Trump was enraged following reports that Mueller had subpoenaed records from his business — the Trump Organization — The New York Times reported. Trump’s lawyers also recently received from Mueller’s office a list for questions for Trump as part of negotiations over an interview with him.

Janison: Against all odds

Flake seems like the longest of long shots to challenge Trump for the Republican nomination in 2020. He’s not running for re-election this year — Trump allies gloated that they would have beat him in a primary — and he has no easily assembled organization.

But Flake, who accused Trump of causing “profound damage to our values and to our civic life,” said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that someone in the GOP needs to take him on. “There is a crying need out there for some Republicans to stand up and say this is not normal. This is not right,” he said.

See Dan Janison’s column for Newsday.

Not your Facebook friends

The data analytics firm that used voter-targeting tactics to help Trump’s 2016 campaign had previously collected information improperly on more than 50 million Facebook users, The New York Times reported.

Cambridge Analytica paid to acquire the personal information through an outside researcher who, Facebook said, claimed to be collecting it for academic purposes.

It sought the data after getting a $15 million investment from Long Island billionaire Robert Mercer, with the promise its tools could identify the personalities of American voters and influence their behavior. The company said the data wasn’t used for the Trump campaign.

Cambridge’s British-based counterpart had dealings with a Russian oil company, Lukoil, that was interested in how data was used to target American voters, the Times also reported.

What else is happening

  • Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) tells Newsday’s Figueroa that he had “questions about some of the people” on Mueller’s staff, but called Mueller himself “totally straight, totally honest, totally professional.”
  • The fights over money for Gateway, the Zadroga fund and the tax law’s impact on New York, along with counterattacks on Trump by the state’s Democrats, add up to an unusual level of conflict between the president and his home state, writes Newsday’s Tom Brune.
  • Jared Kushner’s family real estate company filed false paperwork with New York City stating there were no rent-regulated tenants in buildings it owned when there actually were hundreds, The Associated Press reported. Tenants said there was systematic harassment to get them to leave.
  • Several Democratic members of Congress have offered to hire McCabe for a few days on the uncertain theory it will allow him to qualify for his full pension.
  • In the early months of the administration, senior officials were pressured to sign nondisclosure agreements to keep them from writing tell-all books that could be unflattering to Trump even beyond his presidency, a Washington Post columnist writes. Their legality is dubious.
  • Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) prodded condemnation from Republicans by suggesting citizens could use the Second Amendment if Trump defies the courts. 
  • Trump’s job approval rating in a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll is 43% — up 4 points since January — while 53% disapprove.

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