The Mueller Investigation Is Bigger Than Rod Rosenstein

This isn’t to say that a Rosenstein replacement couldn’t do any damage — he could try to starve the investigation of resources, for example, or withhold approval for investigative steps that have yet to be taken. But considering that the potential replacements for Mr. Rosenstein — Solicitor General Noel Francisco or the head of the Office of Legal Counsel, Steven Engel — have very little experience in counterintelligence and criminal matters, they would face an uphill battle justifying those decisions against seasoned prosecutors and in the face of evidence warranting otherwise.

.. Under the special counsel regulations, moreover, any such decision would be required to be reported to Congress. With the precedent set by Devin Nunes on the House Intelligence Committee, if Congress changes hands, it’s going to be very difficult for the president to try to block obvious attempts to obstruct justice from seeing the light of day.

What If President Donald Trump Tries to Fire Robert Mueller?

Mr. Mueller was appointed not by Mr. Trump, but by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein after Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from involvement in any investigation related to the 2016 presidential race. That means Mr. Trump couldn’t fire Mr. Mueller himself, but would have to order Mr. Rosenstein to do so.

Mr. Rosenstein has expressed support for Mr. Mueller, and his associates expect him to resign rather than carry out such an order. If that happens, Mr. Trump could turn to the next Justice Department official in line, acting Associate Attorney General Jesse Panuccio, and then to Solicitor General Noel Francisco.

It isn’t known if either would heed an order to fire Mr. Mueller. If they refuse, Mr. Trump would have to go down the hierarchy at the Justice Department until he found an official willing to do so. In such a situation, the president could face a number of DOJ resignations—and the political fallout that would entail.

Something like this happened on Oct. 20, 1973, when President Richard Nixon ordered Justice Department officials to fire Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox. Attorney General Elliot Richardson resigned, as did his deputy, William Ruckelshaus. Solicitor General Robert Bork finally did as Mr. Nixon asked. That episode became known as the Saturday Night Massacre.

.. Some legal experts have asked whether Mr. Trump might replace Mr. Sessions or Mr. Rosenstein with another official and order that person to fire Mr. Mueller.

Attorneys general and their deputies must be confirmed by the Senate. Someone who is temporarily “acting” in that position, without Senate confirmation, must come from an existing Justice Department job or a Senate-confirmed post elsewhere in the administration.

.. Mr. Trump could, in theory, install someone like Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt, a former Oklahoma attorney general, as acting attorney general. Then, he could order Mr. Pruitt to fire Mr. Mueller. The political blowback from such a move, however, would likely be considerable.

Would Justice Department officials appoint another special counsel to replace Mr. Mueller?

Harsh public reaction to the Saturday Night Massacre in 1973 forced Mr. Nixon to allow DOJ officials to appoint a replacement. Leon Jaworski took that job and steadily pursued the investigation until the president was forced to resign.

.. There is no reason to think the Trump administration would appoint a new special counsel if Mr. Mueller were dismissed.

.. Prominent lawmakers of both parties, including Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa), have expressed support for Mr. Mueller. Mr. Grassley’s committee holds confirmation hearings for Justice Department officials, so his views are especially important.

The Iowa senator has suggested he wouldn’t move to approve a replacement if Mr. Trump fires Mr. Sessions, and on Tuesday he told Fox Business that “it would be suicide for the president to want to talk about firing Mueller.”

.. In addition, even if Mr. Trump fires Mr. Mueller, he can’t fire the grand jury the special counsel is working with or the judge overseeing it. A judge could appoint another prosecutor to continue working with the grand jury.

Trump’s calamities are coming faster — and in bunches

Meanwhile, Trump is back to publicly berating Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who responded with a pointed statement — and then went out to dinner with Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein in a very public sign of solidarity.

Noel Francisco, the solicitor general, was there too. You may recall that Francisco is in line for the No. 3 spot at the Department of Justice after the departure of Rachel Brand.

.. anyone who is surprised by the utter chaos, the ethical sleaze, the policy incoherence and the nepotism/cronyism was not paying attention during Trump’s career in real estate or during his campaign. This is how Trump ran his family operation, stumbling through one failed venture after another.

.. This is how Trump wound up declaring bankruptcy multiple times. No one — not Kelly, Ivanka, Jared, the GOP Congress or even Hicks — can keep him on task.

.. Trump will either be compelled to leave office or will continue to spin out of control. Aides tell the press this is a new level of chaos. Don’t worry — it’ll get worse.

Trump nominates D.C. lawyer Noel Francisco as solicitor general

Francisco had originally been named as the No. 2 in the solicitor general’s office, which represents the federal government in ­appellate courts. He might be best known as the lawyer who ­represented former Virginia ­governor Robert F. McDonnell last year when the Supreme Court unanimously overturned McDonnell’s conviction on corruption charges.

.. The solicitor general is considered to be one of the nation’s best legal jobs, and the occupant is often referred to as the “10th justice.

.. Jeffrey B. Wall, a veteran of the office who now works for the firm ­Sullivan & Cromwell, will assume Francisco’s role as principal ­deputy.

.. representatives of the Trump transition approached U.S. Circuit Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit — an influential judicial voice on the right — to see whether he would be interested in the job.

.. For a time, there appeared to be two front-runners. One was George T. Conway III, a New York lawyer who received high marks from those in the Supreme Court bar and who is also married to Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway. 

.. The other was Charles Cooper, a Washington legal fixture and confidant of Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

.. Cooper pulled out of consideration, and the Trump administration expanded its search.

.. he has had to recuse himself from some of the most important cases, such as the legal battle over Trump’s first travel ban executive order, because his law firm Jones Day represented parties in the dispute.

.. Francisco is a former clerk to Justice Antonin Scalia

.. Francisco was part of the team that represented President George W. Bush in the 2000 Florida presidential election recount.

.. He was raised in Oswego, N.Y., and both his undergraduate and law degrees are from the University of Chicago.

.. he represented religiously affiliated organizations that said providing contraception services for their female employees would implicate them in sin.

Trump’s New Solicitor General Could Fire Russia Investigator Robert Mueller

Francisco was a partner at Jones Day, which Bloomberg Businessweek has called“Trump’s favorite law firm.” The outlet reported in March that at least 14 lawyers from the firm had joined the Trump administration or had been nominated to do so, including Don McGahn, the White House counsel.

.. lawyers from “Trump’s favorite” firm contributed only $7,422 to Trump’s campaign, compared to $267,899 to Hillary Clinton’s.

.. Francisco also is an expert at the Federalist Society, a group of conservative and libertarians in the legal world. The executive vice president, Leonard Leo, is said to have secured the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court. Gorsuch and FBI Director Christopher Wray also are listed as experts there. Francisco has donated thousands of dollars to federal election candidates, all Republicans, though not to Trump.

..  Ted Cruz, who once worked with Francisco at the law firm Cooper & Kirk. “He’s a brilliant lawyer & a principled conservative.”

Third-highest ranking official at the Justice Department stepping down

Brand, 44, who has only been in her Senate-confirmed position for nine months, would have been in line to take over the supervision of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia investigation if Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, the department’s No. 2 official, was fired by Trump or recused himself from the matter.

.. Brand is leaving the Justice Department for a top legal job at Walmart

.. When Trump was asked by a reporter whether he was then more likely to fire Rosenstein and whether he had confidence in him, Trump replied, “You figure that one out.”

.. With Brand’s departure, Solicitor General Noel Francisco is next in line at the Justice Department to oversee the Russia investigation after Rosenstein.

.. The news that Brand is leaving came as a surprise to many people who know her. The Federalist Society just announced Friday that Brand is scheduled to speak next week at a Washington chapter lunch.

.. Brand has one of the department’s more politically challenging jobs, managing the lawyers who litigate civil issues, including Trump’s travel ban as well as civil rights, environmental and antitrust cases.