So, here we are: a new week and a new set of weekend presidential tweets to analyse.

Judging from what we see, the chances of Donald Trump firing the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, have shortened significantly.

On Sunday, Trump wrote:

This was followed by:

The denial would amount to the usual display of Trumpian overstatement (Mueller, Comey, McCabe, and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein are all Republicans) except this is the very first time that the President has specifically mentioned Mueller by name in a tweet. This also came after the week when his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, fired the FBI’s Deputy Director. The lesson of the past two years is that Trump has a tendency to latch onto individuals and, like a terrier, shake them (or the situation) into submission. For weeks, the subject of his ire has been Andrew McCabe. If Sunday’s tweet amounts to a switch from McCabe to Mueller, then it would be significant given past history.

McCabe’s departure also raised alarms given the speed of the process. Earlier in the year, Trump had tweeted out his hope that McCabe would be fired and be deprived of his pension earned after twenty-plus years at the FBI. For Trump to get his wish, the firing had to be done before Sunday, which would have been McCabe’s last day in office. The result was a partisan — not least spiteful — victory by a president who has taken against the FBI. In their new book, Russian Roulette, authors David Corn and Michael Isikoff, identify the moment that Trump went to war with the FBI after the then-director, James Comey, presented him with the Steele dossier. Trump described it as a ‘shakedown’ and relations between the President and the agency deteriorated and have not recovered. What we can intuit, then, is that McCabe’s departure was sent in motion months ago and that Trump’s anger festers long and rarely dissipates.

If Trump feels that McCabe’s departure strengthens his position, then he might well consider going further. If his eye has turned to Mueller (and naming the Special Counsel feels like it’s exactly that) then Trump’s next logical step would be to fire Jeff Sessions. A few weeks ago that felt unlikely, despite Trump’s repeated put-downs of his A.G., but, in a short time, Trump has now fired his Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, lost his Chief Economic Advisor, Gary Cohn, as well as (perhaps more significantly to him) seen his Communications Director, Hope Hicks, announce her decision to quit the White House. This was in addition to other departures and rumoured departures. Trump likes chaos and nothing yet suggests that he’s finished.

So, should we expect Robert Mueller to be fired?

The safe, obvious, and simple answer continues to remain a firm “no”. It’s hard to see how Trump’s position is strengthened in the long term by firing the Special Counsel.

Where doubt arises, however, is if Trump feels that the investigation is getting too close. It’s normal for prosecutors to leave any interviews with the main targets of their prosecution until the very end of their investigation. If that is the case, then reports that the Mueller team recently provided White House lawyers with a list of possible questions would suggest that the end is near. Then there’s the Stormy Daniels interview with Sixty Minutes that CBS plans to air next Sunday (24th March).

If the headlines in the coming days continue to displease Trump, there’s a good chance he’ll do something to change the narrative. This could be the much-anticipated firing of H.R. McMaster, his National Security Advisor, or even John Kelly, the White House Chief-of-Staff. Yet if he feels like the short game has become so important, Trump might yet believe he regains the initiative by firing Mueller. He is also emboldened by one other fact: despite warnings from congressional Republicans that firing Mueller would be a step too far, there are not actually that many Republicans voicing that belief. So far, the warnings have come from the usual suspects: Jeff Flake, John McCain, and Lindsey Graham. If Trump were to choose that course of action, he perhaps would be wiser to do it now from a position of strength, with Republicans still hoping that party unity will help them heading into the mid-terms. The later he leaves it, the closer it all gets to that blue wave that potentially sweeps America in November’s elections and could well sweep Trump from office.

@DavidWaywell

 

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