Trump has been on full offense—and fully offensive— lately as he has orchestrated the firing of FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe (just one day before he was due to retire with a pension). The Chief Twit has been tweeting up a storm beating the drums for ending the investigation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Mueller’s indictments of people close to Trump give the impression of taking the chess pieces protecting the king. Trump acts like someone with something to hide, even as insists he has nothing to hide.
He has wanted to be rid of Mueller for a long time (as Henry II says in Becket, “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?”), but wiser heads have talked him out of it because, well, it would be an open admission that he really does have something to hide. Unlike Nixon, who did not have the authority to fire the Independent Counsel Archibald Cox, Trump could legally fire Mueller, who is a Special Counsel within the Justice Department. There are of course strong norms against a president taking such action to stop an investigation that could affect him, but Trump has not been one to respect norms.
There could be—probably would be—lawsuits, and it could end up in the Supreme Court, on the obvious grounds that Trump as President should not be in position to block an investigation that could determine if he has committed “high crimes or misdemeanors” that would warrant impeachment or criminal trial. But that would be a year or more in process, while Trump would have meanwhile beheaded the investigation and put himself in position to bury its findings where the sun don’t shine. Would anyone stop him from successfully ordering the destruction of all records of the Mueller probe? Alert lawyers should at least get a court order sealing those records and prohibiting tapering with or destroying them.
In any case it is questionable whether the Republican majority on the present Supreme Court would find a duty to check this President. Maybe they would think this is just too egregious to be permitted, but at least three of the five seem inclined to back Trump no matter what.
Democrats need to let it be known that they will do all in their power to shut down Congress. If the Congress refuses to be a check on the President, at least it should be stopped from being an accessory.
Would the Republican majorities in the House and Senate finally find their backbones and begin impeachment proceedings? When many senators and representatives have been hastening to add to the right-wing chorus about the illegitimacy and bias of the Mueller investigation, this appears a forlorn hope. The GOP members of Congress (with a few honorable exceptions) would cheer Trump on. This Congress will be no check on Trump.
What could be done then? There are two immediate steps that would not stop Trump but would impose costs on him. The first would be massive protests against what amounts to tyranny. These would need to be in Washington, of course, and in all major cities, and wherever there are people to march. These demonstrations could easily paralyze the country—and polarize it as well. The potential for violence is real, but the demonstrations themselves would have to be strictly nonviolent.
The second front would be Congress, where the minority Democrats in both houses, but especially in the Senate where the rules give them leverage. Democrats need to let it be known that they will do all in their power to shut down Congress. If the Congress refuses to be a check on the President, at least it should be stopped from being an accessory.
Both of these immediate steps are essential, but they will not in themselves stop Trump and hold him to account. It is now clear that the only thing that will do that will be an overwhelming Democratic victory in the November elections, taking control of both houses. All the other checks and balances have failed.
Trump sees firing McCabe as a blow for democracy, because he sees his electoral victory as the embodiment of democracy. But if a president can render himself immune from investigations into his possible misconduct, we have no democracy worthy of the name. We have an elected autocracy, no better than what we see in Russia, or the Philippines, or Hungary.
We hang in the balance.