Annie Karni writes in Politico:
“An abstract, in-case-of-emergency-break-glass executive order drafted by the Trump administration in March may become real-world applicable as the president, raging publicly at his Justice Department, mulls firing special counsel Robert Mueller.
Since taking office, the Trump administration has twice rewritten an executive order that outlines the order of succession at the Justice Department — once after President Donald Trump fired acting Attorney General Sally Yates for refusing to defend his travel ban, and then again two months later. The executive order outlines a list of who would be elevated to the position of acting attorney general if the person up the food chain recuses himself, resigns, gets fired or is no longer in a position to serve.
In the past, former Justice Department officials and legal experts said, the order of succession is no more than an academic exercise — a chain of command applicable only in the event of an attack or crisis when government officials are killed and it is not clear who should be in charge.
But Trump and the Russia investigation that is tightening around him have changed the game.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has already recused himself from overseeing the investigation into possible collusion between Trump campaign aides and Russian operatives, after it was revealed that he failed to disclose meetings with the Russian ambassador during the campaign. And Trump started his morning on Friday by appearing to take a public shot at his deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, who has increasingly become the target of his impulsive anger.
“I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt,” the president tweeted.
The Justice Department said in a statement on Friday that there are no current plans for a recusal, but Rosenstein has said in the past that he would back away from overseeing Mueller’s investigation if his role in the ouster of former FBI Director James Comey becomes a conflict.
That has legal experts closely examining the dry executive order to figure out who might be next up to bat, or, as Democratic lawyers and consultants view it, who might serve as Trump’s next sacrificial lamb.
“We know Rachel Brand is the next victim,” said Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and the editor-in-chief of Lawfare, referring to the former George W. Bush official who was recently confirmed as associate attorney general, the third-highest position in the Justice Department.
“For those of us who have high confidence in Rachel — the more confidence you have in someone in this role, the less long you think they’ll last,” said Wittes, who said he considers Brand a friend. “That does put a very high premium on the question of who is next.”
That question, however, has become more complicated because the Trump administration has been slow to fill government positions and get those officials confirmed. Typically, the solicitor general would be next in line after the associate attorney general, followed by the list of five assistant U.S. attorneys, the order of which would be determined by the attorney general. But none of those individuals have been confirmed by the Senate, and they would be unable to serve as acting attorney general without Senate confirmation.
Because of that, the executive order comes into play — one that puts next in line after Brand the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, Dana Boente. Boente, a career federal prosecutor and an appointee of former President Barack Obama, was tapped last April to serve as the interim head of the Justice Department’s national security division, which oversees the FBI’s Russia investigation.
Boente, who was briefly thrust into the no. 2 spot at the Justice Department after Yates was fired, was also tasked with phoning Preet Bharara, then U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, to deliver the unexpected news that he was fired. At the time, Boente also vowed to defend Trump’s travel ban in the future.
Boente is followed, on the succession list, by the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina, John Stuart Bruce; and the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Texas, John Parker. Both are career prosecutors who are serving in their posts on an interim basis, until a presidential appointment is made. But they would not need to be Senate confirmed to take over.”
Read Karni’s full article at the link. Meanwhile, over at Newsweek, Graham Lanktree speculates that Trump’s outside legal team is building a case against Mueller. But, that case appears to be totally bogus, a rather blatant attempt to obstruct and pervert justice, in the best (or worst) traditions of Richard Nixon. Many believe that the firing of Mueller would lead to the fall of Trump (either by impeachment or forced resignation) and the ushering in of President Mike Pence.
Here’s the link to the Newsweek article:
And, here’s an excerpt from Lanktree’s report:
“Vice President Mike Pence will soon lead the U.S. if President Donald Trump fires Russia investigation special counsel Robert Mueller, a Bush administration ethics lawyer said Saturday.
Trump’s legal team and surrogates are “building a case for firing Mueller,” wrote Richard Painter in a tweet after he appeared on Fox News Saturday. Painter was President George W. Bush’s chief White House ethics lawyer from 2005 to 2007.
“If that happens Mike Pence will soon become the 46th President,” Painter wrote. “Trump surrogates are making up Mueller ‘conflicts’ to justify firing him. That will be yet more obstruction of justice if it happens.”
. . . .
Friends of Trump said earlier this week that the president is considering firing Mueller. If that happens, legal scholars say, it would likely prompt the resignations of senior Department of Justice staff, reprisals from Congress, and resignation of White House staff. Painter argues that it could lead to impeachment.
“Mueller is absolutely not compromised by his professional relationship with Comey,” said Painter on Saturday. “This is just an effort to undermine the credibility of the special counsel.”
Stay tuned. Almost everyone except Trump and his “outside advisers” believes that firing Mueller would be suicidal. But, Trump appears to be unhinged and often doesn’t let rationality or prudence enter into his decision making. He’s managed to survive many self-destructive acts that would have spelled the end of the line for any other politician. But, this one might well bring him down.