Since the appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate ties between Russia and the Trump campaign, Donald Trump’s fury has steadily mounted. Trump has railed against Mueller’s investigation, repeatedly calling it a “witch hunt.” But last week, as Paul Manafort’s trial got underway and Trump expressed fear that his son, Donald Trump Jr., may be criminally implicated, the president’s rage boiled over.
Was Trump’s tweeted order that Attorney General Jeff Sessions “should stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now, before it continues to stain our country any further” permissible under the “unitary executive” doctrine, or is it evidence of obstruction of justice by the president?
On March 2, 2017, after consultation with Justice Department officials, Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation because of contacts he had with the Russian ambassador to the United States during the presidential campaign.
Later that month, in a meeting at Mar-a-Lago, Trump prevailed upon Sessions to un-recuse himself. Trump told his aides he needed a loyalist overseeing the Russia investigation. Sessions refused.
The task fell to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to name a special counsel to lead the investigation. Rosenstein appointed Mueller in May 2017. Mueller’s mandate: to investigate “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump” as well as “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.”
One month later, in June 2017, Trump ordered White House counsel Don McGahn to fire Mueller, but McGahn refused and threatened to resign. Trump backed down.
In early December of 2017, Trump tried again to have Mueller fired.
The pertinent Department of Justice regulation says a special counsel can “be disciplined or removed from office only by the…