"The latest attention-grabbing trial balloon to be floated by a White House staffer or apparent surrogate for President Trump is the suggestion by Christopher Ruddy, a longtime friend of the president, that Mr. Trump is “considering, perhaps, terminating” Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel appointed to investigate the Trump campaign’s links to Russia.
President Trump cannot legally do so.
Authority to appoint Mr. Mueller landed with Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, because Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself last March from the Russia probe. In appointing special counsel, Mr. Rosenstein was exercising authority that Congress had given the Justice Department by statute. The Justice Department, in turn, issued implementing regulations in 1999 specifically to govern such appointments. Those rules provide that a special counsel is appropriate when a criminal investigation is warranted but presents a conflict of interest for the department.
Under these rules, only the attorney general — or, in this case, the deputy attorney general — may remove a special counsel. He may do so only “for misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity, conflict of interest or for other good cause.”
Because the deputy attorney general serves at the pleasure of the president, Mr. Trump may direct Mr. Rosenstein to fire Mr. Mueller. Although Mr. Rosenstein has cautiously avoided any statement more definitive than insisting he would not dismiss the special counsel except for good cause, he has added that he does not anticipate such a scenario. Should Mr. Rosenstein refuse a dismissal order, then Mr. Trump, like President Richard M. Nixon, could fire however many officials it takes to get someone in place willing to execute the discharge. That is not likely to be easy because there is no reason at this point to suspect that Mr. Mueller has done anything that would warrant his dismissal for “good cause,” and it is doubtful there are many Justice Department officials who would rush to act unlawfully."